Robyn Phelan

RMIT University student and North Melbourne resident Robyn Phelan is one of the 43 shortlisted artists currently exhibiting at RMIT Gallery in the Siemens-RMIT Fine Art Scholarship Awards.

The Siemens-RMIT Fine Art Scholarship Awards are on at RMIT Gallery until 23 January.

Winners will be announced by RMIT Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Daine Alcorn, at a special presentation at RMIT Gallery on 20 January from 6 pm – 8 pm.

Robyn Phelan, with her work Mountainscape: Two Views, 2009. Photo credit: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery 2009

Robyn Phelan, with her work Mountainscape: Two Views, 2009. Photo credit: Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery 2009.

Ms Phelan, who is a Bachelor of Fine Art – Ceramics (Honours) student, is also a good authority on what winning a Siemens-RMIT Fine Art Award can do for an emerging artist's career.

She won a scholarship in 2006, which enabled her to travel to China and take up a residency in the Jingdezhen Pottery Workshop and Experimental Sculpture Factory.

"Winning the award and being able to travel was fantastic. I had not been intending to travel, so I really just plucked something out of the open – I heard a lecture about the Jingdezhen Pottery Workshop and decided to go," she said.

"Jingdezhen has been the porcelain capital since 1300 - it was the imperial place where the kings had their porcelain made. The town is the size of Adelaide and just about everyone is involved with ceramic production.

"I used it as a research trip and I took 500 photos and walked into all the factories and shops. I wanted to tell stories about where I worked, and the history of the clay that came out of the area. For example, it went to Holland for delft ware and it went to Istanbul.

"Because of the experience, I spent the past year making work based on the histories of that area."

Ms Phelan, who has worked in visual arts and crafts teaching and management since 1988, said that her work in the current Siemens RMIT Fine Art Scholarship Awards exhibition is based on her experience in Jingdezhen.

“Ceramics is very laden with a big history and the story I am telling in these works is how the landscape in western and eastern art is read. I have used Chinese decals on them that I brought back from Jingdezhen.

“These are the same as the decals Wedgwood would have used in the 1400s. The decals are cobalt blue and have a tissue back and you apply them to your work.

“On one mountain I have shown how a western landscape is read with a vanishing point, and the objects getting smaller in the distance.

“In the other work I have cut the decals up and rising up to the top of the mountain as you would view a Chinese painted scroll. And then I have used a meandering line to show that perspective isn’t important in Chinese scroll painting, it’s more about the story and the journey that you take.”

Ms Phelan said she used ‘southern ice’, a perfectly pure white porcelain which was devised by an artist in Tasmania.

“It is fantastic because you get a real luminosity when you use it, and you don't have to put a glaze on top, which is great for sculptural work," she said.

Now in its ninth year, the Siemens RMIT Fine Art Scholarship Awards help RMIT Fine Art students further their careers by assisting their research and production costs.

For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists:

RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator, Evelyn Tsitas, (03) 9925 1716, 0418 139 015, or evelyn.tsitas@rmit.edu.au.