Bowraville Art Hub: The Coast’s best-kept secret

A mere sixty kilometres from Coffs Harbour is a small, quiet town where the tree-lined streets contain buildings with remarkable history and a rising hub of budding and talented artists are preparing to make waves.

Step aside Bellingen, there’s a new art hub in town – it’s in Bowraville. That’s right, just down the road is a hot spot of new and exciting artists slowly but surely making their way to centre stage. They cover a range of disciplines – painting, sculpting, large-scale murals, macramé – you name it, they do it.  They’ve created a studio in town which acts as a kind of local artist ‘co-op’.

Walking through the quaint little shop and it’s hard not to be blown away by the talent on display from the striking paintings on the wall to homeware trinkets and beautifully hand-crafted woodwork.

So, who are some of these artists? Coastbeat caught up with two international (turned local) light sculptors and a mural artist.

Claude Teyssier & Margrit Rickenbach – Light Sculpture

 Claude and Margrit have lived a life you would only expect to read about in a book.

Born in Paris in 1940, Claude migrated to Australia 32 years ago, bringing with him international experience from his home city of Paris, as well as London, Switzerland and everywhere in between. From Basel in Switzerland to Beswick in the Northern Territory, Claude has worked as a painter, a mask & lantern maker and a teacher. At the ripe age of 78, Claude’s career continues to thrive from the little town of Bowraville.

Claude Teyssier & Margrit Rickenbach fly lantern

Margrit wasn’t as quick to move to Australia. She and Claude met overseas at a festival in Basel and kept in contact. Like Claude, Margrit has a colourful career history having worked as a florist, a rehabilitation centre worker and a carer in an art-therapy nursing home. All the while, she focused on art as therapeutic expression and never lost her childhood passion or talent for painting and creating pieces with textiles and other unique materials.

It wasn’t until Margrit visited Australia via a trip to Tahiti that she realised she wanted to settle down under. So, in 2002, after an impressive artistic career abroad, Margrit moved to Australia and the pair set up on the mid north coast.

The couple reside on a small farm 17km out of Bowraville. This husband and wife team have been creating extraordinary light sculpture lanterns both regionally and across the country for the past eight years.

They can create large-scale lanterns of absolutely anything, but their favourites tend to be sea creatures, insects and other animals. Together they work on projects ranging from private commissions, gallery exhibitions, public art, community group mentorship, festivals and special events.

Claude and Margrit’s artistic talents complement one another beautifully – their individual expertise combine seamlessly to create these remarkable pieces. Claude works on the structure itself, weaving and designing the shape of the animals from an idea in his head. Once this is complete, Margrit takes over with the outer design.  “Claude can envisage the lantern before he’s even started, whereas I can’t,” says Margrit.

Monkey Lantern

“I think the key to working together is that each person has to have their own special domain. You find something you have in common first – for us, it’s the large bamboo light sculptures – and then you work together. Claude and I accept one another’s views. Sometimes he will say, ‘no, we can’t do that’ and other times I’ll disagree with something, but we compromise and we’re a good match.”

So, how are they made?  Every sculpture is made from bamboo that Claude sources from local bushlands. Using a special clumping variety, Claude bends and twists the various pieces into the shape of his desired frame, securing with string and zip ties. From there, the lighting is installed on the frame, followed by the covering – a combination of transparent paper, glue, paint and other materials for decoration.

While they estimate a large lantern could take up to a month to create, Claude laughs and says if they get a brief to have one ready in a week, they’d do it.

“We will work day and night to get it done. All the designs are in my head,” he says.

Passionate about sharing their expertise with locals, Margrit and Claude regularly hold workshops. “We basically give people the beginning of a big lantern – so the structure is done beforehand – and then the workshop focuses on the outside layers. Everyone can do it. Children in particular love doing the painting part so we often focus on that if we’ve got a big group of children and their parents,” says Margrit.

lit up fly lantern

Claude and Margrit love being able to share their lanterns with the local community. “There was a festival in Bowraville over Christmas and we brought all our lanterns out and set them up in the main street – the children were so excited.”

“Everybody loves lanterns; they love to be involved in it and to see it and we love that we can give this to them.”

You can see some of Claude and Margrit’s work at Port Central Shopping Centre where they have a whale light sculpture on display.

 For more information, visit www.lightsculpture.com.au

Nelli Gallop – Mural artist

 One of Nelli’s earliest childhood memories is painting with her grandmother.  Many years later, this talented Bowraville artist is still painting – this time in the form of large-scale murals.

“I’ve completed about nine murals now. My very first mural in the area was on the side of the Museum, which was a collaboration with a few local artists,” says Nelli.

Since her first gig, Nelli has become highly sought after by primary schools in the region wanting her artwork to be a feature in their playground. For Nelli, mural art, particularly within schools, is something that’s gaining a great deal of momentum.

Nelli Gallop painting

“The idea of mural art is progressing and so is the idea of getting children to help with the project. It’s obviously easier doing the project yourself but the benefits of having the children involved in the project make it so worthwhile,” she says. “They get to have ownership over it and there’s certainly a learning aspect to it especially when we do cultural projects.”

Inspired by Aboriginal dreamtime stories, Nelli says her work is always based around ‘interconnectedness’.  “I believe getting the children to connect to country is paramount for a healthy future. If they don’t have that connection, then I feel like we’re all a little bit lost. I think there’s a lot of relearning happening and remembering how we fit.”

Art hasn’t always been a part of Nelli’s life. Originally from Goulburn, she lived and worked for the public service in Sydney for close to a decade before realising she wanted more out of life. Nelli took off to travel the world for a year before returning home with her partner and starting the journey north in search of their new home.

“I think the city kind of showed me how not to live and my time overseas really opened my eyes and I experienced a lot of personal growth.”

“When we got home, we took a Kombi van up north as far as Cairns, looking for somewhere to set up. We had friends in Bellingen but when we discovered Bowraville, we just knew this was home.”

Of Aboriginal heritage, Nelli says she has been welcomed with open arms by the local Gumbaynggirr people.  “My ancestry is Aboriginal but from down south in Dharawal country,” she says.

Nelli Gallop on the verandah

Nelli works with the Gumbaynggirr elders quite often for her murals. In fact, they were the ones who taught her how to dot paint. “It’s very important that I follow protocol and get permission if I’m wanting to feature certain cultural elements. I like to talk to as many people as possible and get their input.”

When asked why she creates murals, Nelli said she loves the impact they create. “I love creating big art and walking away from something striking but no-one really knowing it’s my work. Sure, sometimes there’s a bit of glory at the beginning but at the end, no-one knows who made it and I like it that way. I get to create it, share it and then enjoy it just like everyone else.”

Nelli adds, “I believe mural art is very much through you, not from you. When I paint, I get very lost in it and then I find the painting starts telling me what needs to be done.”

While she may love the anonymity of her work, her recent prize in Coffs Central’s mural competition will no doubt thrust her back into the limelight.

“The prize-winning mural tells the story of “Guruuja” the whale, who is travelling from his ancestral home in the Milky Way. Guruuja is a beloved ancestor of the Aboriginal people. He has the earth in his sights as he travels through the Dreamtime. The whale migration is depicted on the earth and is seen being held by the Muurrabay tree – the link between the physical and spiritual worlds,” says Nelli.

“Guruuja” is set to be displayed at Coffs Central in the coming months.

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