By Andrea Louise Thomas Photos Gary Sissons
Peninsula artist Sophie Perez has a way of bringing the viewer into her landscapes. Whether it’s a stand of majestic weathered gum trees shedding their bark in Red Hill, a sweeping view across sun-bleached fields of Flinders or looking out at the rugged beauty of Bushrangers Bay, there is a tangible sense of place in her paintings.
Sophie was born and brought up in Brighton, England. “The landscapes I work with here are so different to the landscapes and colours of my childhood. I was fortunate to experience many countries with various landscapes on holidays and educational excursions. I’ve also lived in several countries,” she says. Place has always been central to her life.
She might not have become a painter. She could have become a musician having spent many years of her childhood playing violin, but Sophie had always liked art. She was attracted to colour and enjoyed drawing and painting. When she took her A- Levels at senior school, she chose to study art.
In her foundation year (first year towards a degree) at Brighton Technical College Sophie studied printmaking, painting, ceramics, photography, sculpture and illustration. It was there that she discovered her love of painting.
She went on to achieve a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Fine Art Painting at Chelsea College of Art and then completed her studies with a Master’s Degree in Painting from the Royal College of the Arts in London. While working on her degree, she had the opportunity to do a six-week exchange at the National Art School in Sydney where her love of Australia began.
After university, she was part of a studio in London, but longed for a change of scenery so she took up a residency in the mountains near Barcelona. She would ride her bicycle through the nearby countryside absorbing the panoramic views.
Cycling became an important theme in her life as she spent three years racing competitively in England and Belgium. She met her husband-to-be at a race and married him in an outdoor velodrome!
In addition to the thrill of the race, cycling gave her a visceral experience of the landscape and the opportunity to see light, movement and colour in a whole new way. She became part of the landscape and it informed and influenced her art practice.
In fact, it was the bicycle that brought Sophie to the Mornington Peninsula. She used to cycle from her home in Elwood up to Sorrento and back. Like her experiences in Europe, riding gave her an intimate experience of the landscape.
The colours and textures, ruggedness, towering trees, ever changing light and breathtaking beauty of the Peninsula made such an impression on her that she, her husband and their three children moved to Mornington on a Monday having just seen their prospective home the previous Friday.
For Sophie, the Peninsula is the perfect place to be a landscape painter. “Everything is so accessible. I find new spots constantly. Having come from Brighton, I needed to be by the sea, but here we also have great green spaces and forests.
It’s all right here. The landscape is my every day,” she says.
Sophie has replaced cycling with running trails. She loves to be a part of the environment. She might stop to take a photo, make a sketch or just take a mental note about a place to capture it later in a painting.
Outside of family life, Sophie is most at home in her Mornington studio where she is building an impressive body of work. There are landscapes and seascapes and still life paintings full of movement and stillness, light, shade and colour – every one imbued with life.
“My work is loose, joyful and painterly. I paint intuitively in oils. I have no rules. I have a limited palate and I mix my own colours. I like to see the brush marks, but composition is most important to me. I like light and I like to see myself in the painting,” she says.