FULL IMMERSION: WATER, LIGHT AND LIFE IN THE ART OF CAMELLIA MORRIS
By Angela May (with Camellia Morris)
After a particularly hot, Queensland summer, I just want to dive into one of Camellia Morris’s paintings! One of them, entitled Rockpool, features on the cover of the August issue of inScribe Journal. Camellia’s work caught the attention of the editing team after the theme for our next issue was set – Water – and when we approached the artist about using one of her images for the cover, she very kindly agreed. There are so many of her paintings that could fit the bill, but in the end, we settled on Rockpool, a seductive and suggestive portrait of the life aquatic here in Australia. The Senior Editor at inScribe, James Cooper, recounts how it was the delicious wateriness of Camellia’s paintings that first captured his attention. He says of our August cover image, ‘You can virtually hear, smell and feel the coolth of the crystalline water on a hot summer’s day.’
Promoting herself as a landscape and portrait painter, Camellia works mostly with the medium of oil paint. Her subject matter is largely inspired by her own backyard – or front yard, as it happens: the waterways of Sydney. Awestruck by the sheer beauty and the majesty of the ocean, Camellia’s fascination with water – in life and in her art – has a long history.
Born in Singapore, Camellia’s family emigrated to Australia when she was still a child. She grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where the natural beauty of the coast was, and still is, easily accessible. The many rockpools along the urban coastline provide a great way to study the interaction between water and light. When I ask Camellia what draws her to the subject of water, she answers simply, ‘I love conveying glimpses of light on the ocean floor, as well as the reflected light on the surface of the water.’
As a writer and speaker, I am fascinated with the creative journey of other artists, and so I was keen to hear more of Camellia’s story. In our recent conversation she shared with me that her interest in art started when she was a young girl. While her aptitude was evident even at this early age, she was encouraged to seek a solid education and a high paying job. Art, her mother cautioned, would lead to poverty. So, instead, Camellia studied to become an accountant, only visiting art galleries and exhibitions in her free time. It seemed she would only ever dream of becoming an artist. When made redundant from her job in 2011, however, Camellia sensed an opportunity to turn her dream into reality. With her husband’s support – and thanks to her self-confessed tenacity – she started entering art competitions and group exhibitions. Today, Camellia is a fulltime artist with a gallery of her own in Mosman, in Sydney.
Growing up, Camellia practiced art with mostly a pencil, having an eye for fine details. Her obsession with ‘getting it right’ proved negative for her mental health, however, and so she eventually put her pencil down and avoided school art lessons altogether. It was only in her thirties – after visiting galleries and viewing masterpieces overseas – that she felt inspired to create again. On her return to Australia, she promptly enrolled herself into an evening community course, and introduced herself to oil painting. Camellia recalls, ‘Everything felt new and exciting again!’
Camellia admits she found using a paintbrush uncomfortable at first. Forced to be less precise with her mark-making, because of the relatively blunt instruments used for painting compared to drawing, she found painting both uncomfortable and yet highly liberating at the same time. She confesses now that she still fights her obsessiveness over control, but this appears to be offset by the vibrancy of a whole new world of colour, texture and expression she’s discovered through the medium of paint on canvas.
Captivated by the interplay water and light, Camellia also loves how the warmth of the human form can be framed by the water’s coolness.
Influenced especially by Sydney’s beaches, her paintings pay particular attention to the human figure in water – both the open ocean and the secluded swimming pools that bejewel the Sydney coastline. Many of her paintings feature a lone figure immersed in a calm and beautiful body of water. Camellia tells me that she finds pure delight in capturing the optical effect of light refracted through water, illuminating the skin of her subject. She says, ‘It reminds me of luminous lacework.’
Camellia’s paintings aren’t simply visually arresting, however. They also speak powerfully of our human relationship to water. What we at inScribe especially loved about the image featured on our August issue is how the human form is situated on the water's edge, looking out towards the depths yet still attached to safety of the pool’s edge, though by just one hand. As James Cooper observes, ‘Camellia’s paintings speak volumes about our relation to the water as humans: we love it, we love to be in it, yet we're never fully at home in it. We're hoping some of the writing we publish will explore this idea in various ways.’
Camellia tells me she used to be frightened of being in the water. She learnt to swim when she was nine. At first, she was absolutely terrified at not being able to feel the floor beneath her feet. When she finally learned to float, however, she was amazed at how simple it was and learnt to relax, believing that water would hold her up. There’s something powerfully symbolic in that memory, and indeed it turns out that Camellia’s fascination with water connects deeply with her spiritual life.
As a confessing Christian since the age of twelve, Camellia sees a clear parallel between floating, trusting the water to hold you up, and having faith in Christ; especially in tough times. She points out that when the disciple Peter walked on the water towards Jesus, he started to sink only when he became afraid of the storm. Of course, water is referenced frequently throughout Scripture, often in relation to life, refreshment, healing, cleansing, baptism and more. Camellia reflects, ‘It is no wonder that we are drawn to the imagery and symbolism associated with water, and it inspires me to capture its beauty and to observe our interaction with it.’
When I ask Camellia about the Rockpool painting chosen for our August issue, she says:
‘For me, [this] is more than just a waterscape; it is also portraiture. The image captures the physicality of the male figure enveloped in the splendour of his watery surrounds, as a visual representation of man engaging with the sublime.
Immersion by its very definition represents deep and intimate engagement, and I wanted to convey a sense that we are so often drawn to commune with something (or even someone) far greater than ourselves.’
Today, Camellia remains inspired by nearby rockpools, her neighborhood and its surrounding beaches. Most of her work is done in her home studio during daylight hours, to make the most of the natural light. She has tried painting outdoors but does not enjoy fighting the wind for her canvas and easel! She’ll often take her camera to capture these scenes while walking her neighborhood, venturing out at various hours of the day in order to capture the changing light and its effect on the water. Sometimes, if sleep eludes her, she’ll pick up her paintbrush in the early hours of the morning and get to work. ‘For whatever reason,’ Camellia confesses, ‘I often feel most creatively energised between the hours of one and three in the morning.’
However, and whenever, Camellia chooses to work, we know the results will continue to captivate and astound. We feel very fortunate to have discovered her work and privileged to share it with our readers on our next cover, and to share with you here some of her inspiring story. Thank you, Camellia.
Camellia Morris's painting, Rockpool, is part of her ‘Swim' series of paintings, inspired by weekend swim meets at the local rockpool. You can find Camellia's seascape and beach artwork at Camellia Morris Art, Shop 1/138 Spit Road, Mosman, Sydney, Australia. You can also find her online at https://camelliamorris.com/. To enquire about original artworks, commissions and limited edition prints please call Camellia on 612 423 987 904.
Angela May is a writer and speaker, who loves to inspire and encourage people through words. Married with two adult children, and a brand-new grandson, she lives in Central Queensland with her husband and two dogs. One dog is a puppy, who is teaching her anew, about wonder and whole-hearted living.