The Bowerbird

Kerrie Lester’s Early Artmaking

Above all, Kerrie Lester (1953-2016) was a passionate and committed art-maker. During her career she created well over thirty solo exhibitions while also finding time to become a finalist in the Archibald Prize sixteen times. She became well-known for her unique style of painting which incorporated twine sewn through the canvas to create texture.

Lester’s artworks have always been invested in storytelling and her early work explored that through the use of found objects. In Souvenir of Woop Woop – an artwork from her very first solo exhibition in 1976 – she creates a collage of ribbons, tea towels, and souvenir spoons. Once assembled together, these familiar, kitschy items begin to represent a certain type of 1970s ‘Australiana’ that has become as contentious as it is nostalgic.

When Lester spoke of her creative practice she likened it to the work of a bowerbird. She collected familiar images, items, and stories from the world around her as the core materials for her artworks. With these tools she could create clear and inviting symbols of a time or place.

The current national director of Australian Galleries, Stuart Purves, worked with Lester for at least fifteen years. Purves describes her as lively, funny, and bold in her artistic perspective.

‘I think she was more like a buffalo than a bowerbird,’ he laughs, ‘I mean, she really was trampling through the landscape gathering things… get out of the way, this is my territory, this is how I’m going to say it, and at the end of it you felt all that energy that went into it.’