by Lara Scolari

The idea that generosity leads to abundance is not a concept we all grew up with. But we didn’t all grow up with rich acrylics in plentiful supply and be encouraged to paint the town Red Oxide, Nickel Titanate Yellow or Phthalocyanine Blue. Constant access to tubes of vibrant colour had Australian abstract expressionist artist Lara Scolari laying it on thick from a young age, and that generosity is still present in her work today.

“All my life I’ve been an artist,” says Lara. “I grew up happy, always drawing and painting, with paint supplies available all over the house.” The daughter of an industrial chemist who worked as a professional colour mixer for fine art supplier, Matisse Derivan, she was always surrounded by tint and texture at home. Her father would bring home the results of his experiments in pigments so Lara and her artist mother could freely experiment with their application. “I decided I wanted to paint a mural on my wall when I was 11 and my parents didn’t bat an eyelid. That was the norm.” she says. The ability to mix paint liberally informed a richness that Lara now bestows on her subjects. Her paintings feel like a celebration; an uplifting of the ordinary that allows us to see beauty in the everyday.

It wasn’t until Lara got to art school that she realised that it was common for students to be sparing with their use of paint and art materials. “I was surprised how conservative people were with paint. It makes sense. But it could stifle you. I just couldn’t do that.” How could anyone give to their art and be free enough to discover something meaningful to say if they were preoccupied with how much paint they were using? A belief in giving to the art because the art might give back has continued to lead Lara in the right direction.

After following in her father’s footsteps to apprentice at Matisse, Lara made a move to western NSW to take up a post at Dubbo Regional Gallery. “The flat land, the big skies, the tough living, even the dry conditions… living in Dubbo absolutely informed my art practice,” says Lara. The people and the plains had a profound effect on her life, but this wouldn’t be seen in her art practice until she took up residency in Sydney several years later. First, Lara was to marry into a farming family, give birth to three sons in four years and discover a knack for arts administration that would put her in good stead for running the business side of being an artist later on.

Lara was passionate about her role to curate exhibitions of regional and visiting artists, programming immersive experiences for school children (even designing ways for students to interpret the currency of Archibald Prize submissions) and establish the gallery as a centre for the community. As her boys reached their teenage years and looked for secondary and tertiary schooling options closer to Sydney, Lara found herself at a crossroads.

“My boys thrived at boarding school and I was the one who had a problem with it. It was horrible. Working at a gallery, your peak times are weekends, so I couldn’t travel down to see them often. I decided it was time for a change.” Initially, Lara took up an artist residency at Thirning Villa that allowed her to work on her art full time and be close to her sons. A sold-out show at a gallery on Danks St, Sydney was the clincher. “I took a sabbatical, my husband decided to open a new office for his accountancy practice, and we packed up and moved back to Sydney.” The culmination of 20 years working in the arts, 12 years of study including a Masters degree in Art & Design UNSW, developing a sideline practice, and raising a family, is the Lara Scolari Studio and Gallery space in Balmain, Sydney.

“Returning to the suburb I grew up in has been wonderful,” says Lara. From here, Lara employs her singular technique of voyeuring over her canvasses pouring ink and adding up to 40 layers of acrylic to achieve the translucency and dimension she is known for in her works that echo the ocean and the land. Using a combination of rope, masking and brushes, she now completes commissions to scale for well-known designers such as Greg Natale. But whether it’s a planned composition or not, “When I paint it’s quite meditative. I’m in the moment with no expectations, trying to capture visually whatever it is I’m feeling. I create landscapes of life force. And the energy of my work prompts a dialogue that continues between the viewer and the art work after I’ve finished,” explains Lara.

While the Australian landscape might be as parched as its politics, Lara reminds us how rich its scenery and psyche still is. Maybe the bold use of colour, depth of layers, and energetic movement in her abstract expressionist artwork, will encourage us too - to give reverence and gratitude, rather than view with scarcity, the life we have.

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