It’s hard not to smile when you’re looking at a Tamara Sewoff painting – you might even laugh out loud – and that’s just how this Noosa-based artist likes it.
Tamara believes art can be fun, and it shows. Her vibrant colour palette, quirky style and varied subject matter have a distinctively uplifting and positive effect on those who view her work.
“When I paint, if it makes someone smile or laugh, it’s a nice feeling that what you’ve done has triggered an emotion, which is really lovely,” she says.
Tamara tells a story about a man who, on his first outing after months of being seriously ill, burst out laughing when he saw one of her ‘funky bird’ paintings in a Noosa gallery.
“His wife said that was the first time he’d laughed in six months,” says Tamara. “She said, ‘I’ve got to have that painting.’ So, to have that effect, it’s really, really nice.”
The funky birds – anthropomorphic depictions of chickens with various human-like expressions – are certainly one of Tamara’s trademarks, but there are many sides to this versatile artist, reflected in her diverse range of subject matter. There are other off-beat beasts in the collection – think emus with ribbons, purple sausage dogs and animated horses – but there are also sublime ocean-scapes, river scenes and still-life studies. It all depends on Tamara’s mood.
“I paint what I feel,” she says.
“If I’m not feeling the painting, it’s not going to work. I might be lying in bed and thinking, I’d love to do a vase with flowers and maybe a couple of pears. Or I go to Hastings Street beach and the water is so blue, or I think of a time when we were in Bright in Victoria, and there’s lots of rivers there, so I might do a river scene.”
As for the birds, she explains their presence by the fact she grew up on a chicken farm near Melbourne, developing an affinity with those feathered favourites as she went on her daily egg collection rounds.
“They’re not people, obviously, but they’re creatures that can be loved,” she says. “Sometimes if I’m doing a chicken painting, the paint brush does a little smile, and it’s just the way you do the brush stroke that gives expression to the chickens.”
Since moving to the Sunshine Coast six years ago, Tamara has also fallen in love with the local bush turkeys, who have also made an appearance in some of her work.
“They make me laugh,” she says. “I love painting them; I’ll try to put a bit of humour into them, or just make their eyes come alive, or give them a bit of expression on their face.”
It seems fitting, given Tamara’s ability to bring joy and fun to people through her art, that her first job out of school was painting cartoon cells at the legendary animation production company, Hanna-Barbera, in Sydney. It was here that she and some of her co-workers started taking art lessons from her boss, Richard Zaloudek, a former professor of art from Czechoslovakia.
“That was a lot of fun,” she says. “It just showed me that art doesn’t have to be serious. You can embrace it without being really serious.”
Richard saw that Tamara had talent, and encouraged her to go further. She completed a fine arts degree at RMIT in Melbourne, and embarked on a career in commercial
Twenty years ago, after enjoying a long career working in advertising, book illustration and magazines, Tamara’s husband Mathew urged her to return to her canvas and start painting again, when they moved to Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. She admits she was nervous.
“So, I got my big brush, stood back, and went whack, whack, whack with the brush, and it was so liberating,” she says. “It was like a release from prison; it just felt so good. I felt that I was home.”
Tamara describes her painting style as contemporary figurative. She credits her experience as a commercial artist for her ability to adapt to different subjects and styles.
“It taught me that any style is fine, any subject matter is fine,” she says. “But if you put your own twist to it, whether it’s the colours you use, or the shapes, or the quirkiness – I’ve just learnt to do lots of different stuff.”
Sometimes, her paintings may include what she calls “happy mistakes” – a splosh of paint on the canvas accidently daubed on when she bumps her arm the wrong way, or because she jumps when Mathew comes up behind her asking if she’d like a coffee.
“I can’t get angry, because I look at it and say, ‘that’s what it needed’,” she says.
It’s the “psychology of colour”, however, that really brings the life to Tamara’s work – the deliberate use of colour to evoke particular feelings.
“Colour can lift our spirits, and have an effect on our mental attitude,” she says. “If I’m feeling a little bit down, I paint something in yellow – yellow is the colour for happiness. It changes your mood. Apparently there are receptors in the brain that are affected by colour. It’s just fascinating. Subconsciously it just works.
“For years I’ve been interested in how colour works. Sometimes I’ll just see two colours together like a purple and
a bright lime green, or a deep red and a blue, and there’s an explosion inside my brain. I think, I’ve got to use those colours in the next painting. It just does something.”
Surrounded by the vivid colours of nature in her coastal home – the blues of the sea and sky, and the greens of the forest – Tamara is never lost for inspiration.
“I just want to put some of that beauty down on the canvas,” she says. “I know how it affects me, and hopefully it might affect someone else as well, which gives me such a buzz.
“They don’t necessarily have to buy the painting, but if they just have the feeling, I know that I’ve succeeded.”
See Tamara’s work at Art Nuvo, 25 Gloucester Road, Buderim. 5456 2445 or artnuvobuderim.com.au