Artist reads into book for spark

PENOLA RECOGNITION: Penola resident Anne Miller was awarded this year's Biblio Art Prize, a book-inspired art competition based in Port Fairy. Picture: MOLLY TAYLOR

By Molly Taylor

A BOOK telling the story of a sole occupant living in a bay of sinking islands inspired Penola resident Anne Miller to paint in unfamiliar territory, leading to a prestigious Port Fairy art award win.

Ms Miller won this year’s Biblio Art Prize for her piece titled Watermen, based on novel Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar.

Established in 2009, the Biblio Art Prize entered its 12th year in 2020 and is a competitive exhibition originally established as a way of giving surplus vintage books a new life. 

Organised by Port Fairy’s Blarney Books and Art, this year’s artists were randomly allocated an Australian non-fiction novel to use as inspiration for artwork.

Over 250 entries were received and Ms Miller was announced as the winner during an online presentation, receiving a trophy and $2000.

The 68 year old settled in Penola with her husband Leigh around 18 months ago and has spent the last 30 years of her life painting.

Mostly self-taught, in the past four to five years Ms Miller said she had started to adapt a more abstract style, especially since relocating from Adelaide.

To win the Biblio Art Prize, Ms Miller said she drew inspiration from the book’s storyline, the landscape and the main character’s interests.

The artwork depicts a dark and stormy Chesapeake Bay, where the novel is set, and main character Kitty’s artwork of two watermen figures, formed from multi-coloured tin cans and cattle skulls.

“The book is set in real life at Chesapeake Bay and the islands are sinking…It was a thought provoking book, ” Ms Miller said.

“The book and the painting to a certain extent is attributed to climate change.

“The island was just rock and it used to be productive with cattle, growing vegetables and also a community. It then became a scary place, which I think is indicative of the position we are in in the world at this very moment.”

Ms Miller said she painted using ink, a technique she had not used before.

“It was very much linked to the book and I think that had a bit of an influence on judging,” she said.

“It was quirky enough to stand out anyway, but that’s not why I painted it, it really was a response to the book.”

Ms Miller said she loved living in Penola and had found her groove.

“My image of retirement was to go to the shops and take half an hour longer than I planned because I ran into someone I knew and chatted to and it happens all the time here,” she said.

“We are both really involved in the community, I work at the op shop, Leigh belongs to the CFS, we’ve joined the Coonawarra Choir, Leigh occasionally goes to the Penola Ukulele Group and we sometimes have sessions at home too.

“It is a really welcoming and wonderful place to live, as I’m sure is the same with many country towns, but this one happens to be the best.”

Ms Miller encouraged people to remember anybody could be an artist if they put their mind to it.

“Everyone has creativity somewhere but unfortunately fear of failure comes into it more than it ever should,” she said.

“It is a way of using the other side of your brain whether it be art of music.

“It is also a way of being acceptable, whether your art is good or not, you get with a bunch of artists and you feel as though you are home.”