The Art of Local Life on Bruny

Artist Caroline Rannersberger lives on Bruny. She shares what it’s like living locally.

“As an artist living and working on Bruny Island, there are challenges and rewards.”

Like professional artists everywhere, I often struggle to meet deadlines, making sure I have enough good work that I am happy to hand over to galleries and open up to the public and to reviews. I’m one of a handful of established Bruny based artists represented nationally, but there are also hundreds of great artists exhibiting work ‘about’ Bruny and the Tasmanian landscape across Australia, so the competition is fierce.  It’s important to be ‘seen’, and I’m grateful that I have work in the National Gallery of Australia and other major collections. 

When I sometimes think things are too hard, particularly living and working remotely, I remind myself that I can actually make decent work when I try, and people actually buy it. It just takes effort and commitment.  In fact it’s basically ninety per cent hard work and ten per cent romance. Of course I’m privileged to work on Bruny and to be able to make art that is valued. But it’s far from the notion of the romantic artist swooning at golden sunsets, sweeping bays and snow capped mountains, happily working away in her ocean front studio. The only cliché that really applies is ‘blood sweat and tears’, and the occasional sublime moment of joy. 

“I often need to travel to Hobart for art supplies and to tackle many other jobs associated with being an artist on Bruny Island; it’s a juggling act.”

The trick is to make the most of the trip. Sometimes I am able to take in the landscape as I drive along and actually make the drive part of the creative process. I have a kind of visual diary in my head that constantly registers not only images, but also experiences. I fuse these diary ‘entries’ in my mind, and they act as a kind of library that I continue to call on as I work back in my studio. I never use photographs and always paint from direct experience, making the work while I am in the landscape. So these experiences I have along the way are like visual prompts; little flashes I’ve registered during different stages of my journey into town (Hobart City) and back to Bruny (Alonnah). 

While I’m looking out of my studio across D’Entrecasteaux Channel, sensing how the clouds are shrouding Adamson’s Peak across the water, or watching how the low lying fog white washes Huon Island, I’ll recall a moment from the journey into Hobart and home. I’ll see clouds just above Trial Bay near Kettering that I’ve noticed while I’m queuing for the ferry; observing mist floating down the hillside and hovering just above the water. Or I’ll feel the flow of land forms as they gracefully arc into the water’s edge, submerged under the Channel currents that wind their way south; cutting into the valleys and constantly reshaping the land. Sometimes forming rivers and islands; Huon Island, Huon River. 

As the ferry carves through the water and navigates across to Roberts Point, the land itself appears to shift and repeat itself over and over again. This is a kind of mesmerising infinity that is universal; a continuum and repetition that makes itself felt in all my work.  I create multiple, slightly disjunctive panels; I overlap forms, I layer and allow marks to show through. I emulate the experience of the land, and I am decentred, no longer the artist making the work, but the work itself making me. I can’t force the work, just as we can’t force the land or time to bend to our will. The best work I make comes from total submission to the milieu.

But back to reality, whatever that is. I always juggle travel and timing, navigating the drive into town and back. Bruny is becoming more and more popular, with more and more cars and trucks and caravans using the ferry. Living on a remote Island is a choice I make, and it’s all part of the process, but it does mean I always have to breathe deeply and hope I make it home on time and in one piece without any problems. 

“There are ways in which visitors to Bruny Island can make it safer and easier on the roads for those who call Bruny Island home.”

A little anecdote sheds light on the challenges when driving. Just recently Bett Gallery, who represent me in Tasmania, invited me to be part of a group show. I am thrilled to be invited, and to exhibit amongst some of Australia’s best artists, but I know I have to work hard to deliver. This means once I get home to Bruny I have to send off images for selection and finish off a couple of pieces for the exhibition. All this before five so I can deliver before close of business. 

I just make the ferry; rushing to get home before dark. I am incredibly grateful to squeeze into the last space. Whew! I then get stuck behind an enormous motor home struggling up the hill. The driver very kindly pulls over to the information area at Roberts Point to let me pass. I am already stressed out knowing I need to deliver immediately, and getting home safely and on time means my stress levels stay relatively low. 

I am aware there are only three safe places to overtake between Roberts Point and Alonnah and hope there won’t be any problems, especially with a car load of turpentine and oil paints swishing and jiggling around the back of the car. After a long day I’m exhausted; I just need to get home.  On this particular day I am behind three cars and one caravan, with a ute behind the first car which is doing fifty kilometres on a ninety kilometre stretch. To my horror, the ute overtakes in a blind corner, endangering all the cars. Thank goodness there is no oncoming traffic, and I am so relieved when the other slower cars pull over and let me pass safely. 

Eventually I make it home in daylight. No accidents, no road kill. Just one incident that I have to describe. As I approach the Neck, still in the main highway section, a ball bounces across the road from seemingly nowhere. Then a small child chases it out onto the road and I slam on the brakes.  I still feel the shock. The child of course survives; thankfully I have excellent brakes.

I reset, and in another twenty minutes I am home. The water view, my dog, my husband, my studio, my life. I breathe. I relax. I am more grateful today, after so many near encounters; grateful for drivers who take care; who pull over safely, who respect locals’ needs. I’m grateful for visitors to the island who respect the fabric of Bruny Island. Who value Bruny and appreciate its tapestry of finely woven threads made by its people; and the land; the environment.  Grateful to live in a place shaped by first nations people and to know current custodians who generously share their home and their knowledge. Grateful that Bruny is the most amazing place for me to paint, to live, to understand and to appreciate for many years to come.