Kerry Pendergrast’s Artistic Journey

Published 02 April 2008   

“I knew that drawing was potentially easy and that all I had to do was to look at things in a different way. Anyone who can write should be able to draw, but you’ve got to train your eyes to see things properly and that’s the challenge.”

Text by Rachel Love

Looking at Kerry Pendergrast’s soft pastel landscapes you would imagine that she had been drawing and painting all her life, but her rich colourful artwork is the result of many years of disciplined practise that didn’t begin until she was 30 years old.

Originally from Perth, Kerry first came to Bali in 1992, “Actually I had wanted to go to Africa because I was really into the music and African dance”, Kerry laughs, “but the travel agent convinced me to visit Bali instead. My brother had spent some time on the island and, the night before I left, he told me I should look up his Indonesian artist friend, Pranoto, who liked to drink coffee and talk. He’d met Pranoto in the ’80s, and he gave me a little map of where he lived.” Kerry’s trip changed her fate; Pranoto inspired her to pursue a career in art—he also became her husband.

Kerry began her artistic venture by attending model drawing sessions at the Seniwati Women’s Gallery. She recalls, “Initially, my work seemed to be stuck in the days of when I was about nine or ten, which was when I had stopped drawing. After about three years, however, I was able to produce the occasional good piece, and then within another year or two I was confident.” She claims, “If you’re told that it’s going to take you five years to learn to draw really well, it sounds like a long time, but I just relished the learning process.”

Asked if she believes that anyone can learn to draw, Kerry replies, “Based on my experience, yes I think anyone can, but whether or not everyone wants to be an artist is another matter entirely. I related to a lot of the theories that I read at the time when I was studying, including ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ by Betty Edwards. It’s a very good guide to learning how to draw. When things flow and you produce great work, yet you’re not sure how—well, that’s when you’re using the right side of your brain.” Basically left brain thinking is verbal and analytical. Right brain is non-verbal and intuitive, using pictures rather than words. By consciously using the right side of our brains, we are more creative. Kerry also reveals that her husband has been a great influence. “First of all he just wanted me to enjoy what I was doing, so he let me go my own way for a while and then he started making little suggestions, one by one, and gradually I picked up things from him as well. He was so happy and pleased that I was moving in the same direction as him; he says he used to be “kind of lonely” before, but now it’s like talking to the same person. We truly understand each other and we look at art in the same way. He’s been an artist all his life but he often said to me, “Do what I tell you, but don’t do what I did”. In other words, he was a self-taught artist because he hadn’t had the opportunity to spend time studying. He went from being a batik artist in Java to being a painter in Bali, and he has survived pretty well by doing exactly that since 1974, but he never learned to draw before he started to paint. He told me “Just draw; draw for three years, don’t touch colour.” So for three years I simply drew, and then I started using acrylics, which led to my first exhibition in Seniwati Gallery in 1998.”

Now Kerry is mad about colour… and patterns! After experimenting with acrylics, she progressed into watercolours, maintaining that it was all part of her training. She has always taken patterns with her into each of the mediums that she has used. In her figurative work, she puts women inside patterns. The figures have little colour, but in contrast the backgrounds are bright, featuring anything from a patterned fabric to a vibrant view out a window. The result is detailed realism with patternistic elements, vivid colours and many themes. Kerry, however, finds it hard to describe her style. She says her current work is perhaps leaning more towards impressionism in terms of how the impressionists chose to capture the light essence and fleeting shadows. “I will sit amongst the flowers and leaves so that they are right here in front of my face, I like to get a foreground, I like to catch detail.” She started working with pastels in 2000, as part of her studies. “My plan was to go from acrylics to watercolours to pastels through to oil, but I got stuck in the pastel phase for a long time because I liked it so much, in fact I’m still doing it. I’m finally going on to oils but I think I’m going to be doing both for a while.”

Indeed, Kerry Pendergrast is probably best known for her soft pastels on sandpaper. This rich technique creates a luxurious texture and enhances the colour. She enthuses, “I’m a little bit addicted to the feel of the pastel on sandpaper; it’s a nice sensation, a bit like brushstrokes in painting.” She continues, “Whenever I go anywhere I spend time painting.”—At this point she explains that pastel is the closest thing you can get to painting without actually using paint—“and my work is my reason for visiting places as well.” People ask Kerry why she chooses to work when she’s on holiday, to which she always replies, “It would be torture to see somewhere exciting and new without going out and capturing it in paint or pastel.”

As a result, Kerry’s enchanting landscapes stretch from farming areas southwest of Sydney, to Fremantle near Perth, and on to Borobodur in Java. She has painted the gorgeous wild flowers of Western Australia and the beautiful rice fields, temples, mountains, lakes and beaches of Bali. She prefers to create her pictures while she’s actually at the place because, “I get so immersed in the scene, I notice things while I’m sitting there, such as little tricks in the light that I wouldn’t see if I merely took a photograph or did a quick sketch.”

Kerry Pendergrast has had dozens of solo and group exhibitions in both Bali and Australia, and in 2006 she was commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Spa at Maya Ubud with line drawings, which show the diversity of her work. Yet despite her success, this modest artist still organises and attends model drawing sessions at Pranoto’s Gallery twice a week. “It’s non-profit and open to all artists, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 am until 1 pm.” Her artwork is permanently exhibited at Pranoto’s Art Gallery and her next solo exhibition will be at Alila Ubud in June and July.

Pranoto’s Art Gallery
Main Road, Ubud
Phone 62-361-970827, Mobile 08123992536

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