Home's where the art is

You could assume that husband and wife artists, each working in the abstract field, may have met in a gallery or a studio, but Novocastrian James Drinkwater and former Melburnian (now Novocastrian) Lottie Consalvo first encountered each other through the art of music.

Home's where the art is

James belonged to a band – “a necessary hiatus from art” – and Lottie’s on-again off-again boyfriend did too. An after-gig party led to James painting an impromptu portrait of Lottie with permanent marker – and they were engaged after eight months.


The couple has been married for six years now and Lottie says endearingly, “That’s always been the exciting thing about our relationship, everything we’ve done, we’ve pretty much done it for the first time together...we’ve grown every step of the way together.”


Travel has been an important component of their shared lives, with a three-year stint in Berlin, and a shorter stay in Paris, key turning points.


As the daughter of Newcastle artist, Dino Consalvo, who, for a period, chose a business career in his family’s best interests, Lottie inherited both her father’s gift and his reluctance to trust art as a breadwinner. She worked as a jeweller, and chose a degree in entrepreneurship over fine arts, but Lottie admits, “I spent the whole time drawing in the class!


“Later, we went to the Pompidou in Paris and I saw all the modernists and thought, ‘I have to paint.’ Then we went to Berlin and I treated that like a fine arts degree really – we both locked ourselves in the studio and painted every day – we didn’t have any other jobs for three years.” Both her father and Lottie now pursue their art practice.


Looking back, James is clear that he wanted to be an artist “since I was little”. He recalls running around his aunt Leonie’s house while she painted landscapes around the kitchen table; “everyone else kept running by and I stopped and thought, ‘what is she doing?’ I was fascinated by the colour...her ability to put paint on a canvas and make an image appear...that was the first thing that flicked that switch for me.”


Two art teachers were significant influences on James; Ellyen Davies at St Pius X High School and Penny Buckley at St Francis Xavier’s College. He also cites Ron Hartree (of the Ron Hartree Art School in Newcastle) as a real mentor and Newcastle itself is critical to his maturing as an artist.


“I went to national art school in Sydney and had a solo exhibition at arts centre in Parry St. I was only at art school for a year and scurried back to the cave, 18 going on 16. I just knew I wasn’t ready to be in Sydney.


“Young artists need to go overseas and have a look at the great works. At high school you’re only exposed to a few influences and you’re often too young to digest it all ...too young to put it all into categories...


“I learned my own visual language, who I wanted to be as an artist and how I wanted to paint, through looking but also working really hard and experimenting – mucking round – with different media, different ideas...” From the Berlin period, James and Lottie both recall “lots of conversation around the table – poets, musicians, filmmakers – there was the chance to see how it all overlaps”. 


There’s no evidence of artistic temperament in this creative household with splendid views of Merewether Beach, and although each artist has a distinctive style, they complement – and compliment – each other beautifully.


James is renowned for sweeping abstract works with strong brush strokes and commanding use of colour. Form and shape are crucial and what can seem like random daubs reward closer contemplation.


Lottie is a multidisciplinary artist working across performance, painting, installation, assemblage and video. Her space is rich with texture and colour, and seemingly unrelated objects are instinctively placed in ways that evoke relationship.


A steep staircase separates two studios and when both artists are working, there is clearly plenty of cross-inspiration. “We help each other a lot,” says James. “Our work is very different, which is the best thing, and that’s how the relationship, as artists and as husband and wife, survives.”


Lottie says, “We trust each other. We both look at the same artists but we also look at different artists we’ve introduced to each other. We’re very aware of each other’s practices and where we’re heading. We talk non-stop about what we’re doing. I don’t know what we’d talk about if we weren’t artists!”


While feedback is clearly shared, there is time for solitude too. James observes, “We’ve always worked side by side but you do need a divide,” and Lottie adds, “We don’t want to see each other’s work while we’re working.” In fact, Lottie acknowledges “a growing desire for art and life – which can never be separate – to converge more and more. My ideal would be to have a large studio with doors which could be open to what others are doing but then closed when I need concentrated solitude.”


Two significant factors have influenced James’ and Lottie’s work practices in recent years. The first was the random meeting with their neighbour Anne, an avid reader of crime novels and a collector of paperweights and beautiful objects. Anne is the widow of a local artist and she allowed Lottie and James to move into her husband’s studio. Over time they have become very close, almost family. The second was the arrival of their now 17 month-old son Vincenzo.


James and Lottie long to travel again and to show Vincenzo the great art works they love, but for now, Newcastle is very much home and there is no shortage of inspiration. James’ comment about what inevitably happens when they share exhibition space mirrors their relationship: “We always sit well together in a group show...if our works are hung in the same room, curators will often instinctively put us right next to each other...”


To learn more please visit www.lottieconsalvo.com and www.jamesfrancisdrinkwater.com.


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