Revered Sunshine Coast artist Olga Garner-Morris still vividly recalls the thrill of her first visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as a child like it was yesterday. It was to be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the world of art and sparked the beginning of what would become a successful career that has taken her as far as Buckingham Palace, where her work forms part of several collections.
“I grew up in Wollongong in the 1950s and was taken on my first train ride to the gallery when I was just seven years old,” she says. “I was absolutely enamoured at everything I saw.
“I remember asking the security guard at the gallery if I could please touch a painting. I wanted to touch a real painting. He very kindly lifted me up to touch it and that thrill never stopped.”
Passionate about the arts and nurturing those who are interested in forging a career in visual arts, Olga is an artist in residence at this year’s much-anticipated Immanuel Arts Festival.
Now in it’s 41st year, the festival is one of the Sunshine Coast’s most established arts events and offers an opportunity for artists of all ages, including students from any school across southeast Queensland, to showcase their talent and increase their profile.
The event has grown from a small gathering to today’s thriving festival, which attracts nearly 300 emerging and established artists and more than 800 artworks across a number of different genres including painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media, wearable art, film and creative.
It also allows visitors and art lovers an opportunity to mingle with some of the artists and learn about the creative process behind each piece.
Olga is a long-term avid supporter and promotor of the festival and says at a time when our young generation seem to be permanently tied to their phones and computer screens, the encouragement of expression through art has never been more important. And it’s something she says comes naturally to all of us from a very early age.
“I would say art is inherent in every child because a lot of children will draw or paint before they write the ABC or go to school. It’s a natural ability to be creative, but of course once you go to school you are under different pressures and you don’t have time to dabble,” she says.
“We need quiet time; time to think, time to be creative, which is very difficult for young people today.”
Known for her stunning Australian landscapes, Olga began painting as soon as she could hold a pen and when it comes to trends, she sets her own agenda.
“I am not a follower of trends in art. My preference is the great Australian landscape. I have taken Australia with me in all my major exhibitions overseas. Showing the natural beauty of my country has brought me success but I also enjoy creating abstract works to allow colour and the form of paint to do its own thing. It’s marvellous to watch paint move. I often add a touch of realism to these paintings which allows the viewer to relate to the composition.”
Olga’s works are represented in the collections of Queen Elizabeth, the late Prince Philip, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana.
This year’s festival will showcase around 260 local artists in addition to a large number of students work from across southeast Queensland, attracting more than 2000 people over the three-day event.
Immanuel Arts Festival convenor Lauren Nielsen works tirelessly with a team of parent volunteers to ensure artists across the region are given an opportunity to showcase their work in a gallery setting.
“It’s a huge job that takes about six months of planning, but everyone is so passionate about it and it’s great to see it come to life,” she says.
“We have two categories – the open category for adults, both emerging and established, and the student category is open all school students across southeast Queensland from Prep to Year 12, so we will probably have over 100 students and over 300 artists in total participating in the festival.”
Well known for its arts program, including dance, drama, music and visual arts, Immanuel Lutheran College has a strong focus on encouraging students to take part in the arts and offers a number of opportunities for students throughout the school year.
“We have a very strong focus on the arts,” Lauren says. “The primary and secondary teachers really support the festival. They are the ones encouraging students to give it a go because it can be daunting as a teenager to put your work out there to be judged.”
More than just student art show, Lauren says the Immanuel Art Festival is for the entire Sunshine Coast community, with something to suit all tastes.
“It’s really about the college supporting the visual arts community, which is thriving on the Sunshine Coast. In addition to all the beautiful artwork, we also have a large homeware section with timber work, vases, jewellery and much more. There really is something for everyone and to suit all budgets.
“Last year we sold over $50,000 of artwork, which was a bumper year for us. We are hoping to do something similar this year, so it’s supporting local artists and putting money back in their pockets.”
Most importantly, Lauren says you don’t have to be a lover of art or even understand it to enjoy the festival.
“It’s a lovely day out. You can have a look around the gallery and then stop and have a coffee or some lunch and entry is just $5 so it’s very affordable,” she says.
“It’s all about giving artists the opportunity to showcase their work in a gallery setting. We don’t have a selection process, which a lot of galleries do. We open it to all artists so it’s giving those who are just starting out an opportunity to showcase their work. They also see their work alongside experienced artists, which is important for our students to see where it can take them and what opportunities are available to them.
“You will find people stop and talk to each other about the different artworks. The conversations inside the gallery and the connections that are made are unbelievable.”
Inspired by photos of her intrepid parents’ travels, this year’s student artist in focus, Zoe Kamarinos, has been painting for as long as she can remember. Recognised in many competitions including the Young Archie and Noosa Portrait Prize, the talented Year 12 student’s entry to the festival in 2021– an oil painting called Tibetan Prayer – was awarded best work.
“My mum always tells me her stories of her travels around the world and she and her friends have given me their travel photos to paint,” Zoe says.
“The Tibetan Prayer painting was inspired by a photo of a woman in the foothills of the Himalayas. The prayer wheel she is holding is a Tibetan Buddhist prayer that gives good karma. I found it interesting to learn about everything in the picture as I painted her.”
Immanuel Lutheran College offered Zoe an arts scholarship in 2018 and continues to proudly support her in this field.
“I’ve been on the art scholarship since grade eight and I have been in the festival since I was in primary school and have represented Immanuel Lutheran College in art competitions. It has opened up so many opportunities for me,” she says.
Zoe continues to practise her skills through weekly classes at Art School Co, where she recently accepted an offer to teach primary school students.
“I have been going to art classes at the Art School Co for quite a while and I am very inspired by my teacher Jessica Le Clerc. I was offered a position at the art school this year, which is amazing. It’s really cool being around everyone that loves art. It’s nice to work with the little kids – they are so talented and creative.”
With a focus on colour and portraits, Zoe is currently working on her brush strokes and capturing the character and emotion in her portraits.
She is excited about her role as student artist in focus this year and the opportunities it offers her and other emerging artists.
“I love seeing everyone’s work. It’s so diverse and across so many mediums including some pretty cool 3D work,” she says. “It’s also interesting to talk to people about my work and what they think about it.”
There is no doubt that this is only the beginning for the talented young artist.
The Immanuel Arts Festival runs from May 19 to 22. For more information visit immanuelartsfestival.com.au.