Desiree Crossing: 2023 Artist in Residence

Desiree Crossing is an Australian portrait artist based in Perth, who specialises in oil paintings. Desiree was the recipient of the 2021 Baldock Family People’s Choice Award at the Lester Prize, as well as a finalist in many other prestigious Australian art awards. Desiree’s work has taken her to many places around the world, and in the past two weeks it’s taken her to Santa Maria College, as our Artist in Residence.

We asked Desiree a few questions to find out more about her work.

What inspires your artwork?

My inspiration shifts from time to time of course, as the world is such a complex and interesting place, but I do have a particular love of portraiture. I think it is such a beautiful storytelling device. With my work, be it portrait or still life, I aim to hint at something hidden under the surface. Perhaps it is a private moment shared only between the subject and viewer, or a snippet of a story. I don’t want to create paintings that are simple and pretty, I want my audience to work and fill in the story.

How would you describe your style?

I firmly place my work in the category of Contemporary Realism, many people have described it as photo realism. I am an admirer of most artistic styles and have experimented with painting in different ways over the years, but my work naturally evolved in this direction. I am quite a precise person with a background in technical drawing, and this painting style very much suits my nature.

What is your favourite piece you have done and why?

That’s a very tricky thing to answer! I have several favourites for many reasons. Often, I love a piece because I know that it is something extremely meaningful for my client, or a piece is fun because it’s a little subversive. The paintings that always make me the happiest are the ones in which I feel I have pushed myself further than ever before, conceptually, or technically. I particularly loved the process of painting Lola & Layla as it was created during the first big lockdown and it felt extremely decadent to be able to lock myself away in my bubble, painting for endless hours without interruption! It was quite a challenge from a technical standpoint as it contains so many different textures, complicated fabrics, and large expanses of featureless skin.

Do you remember the start of your art journey? When was it and how did it begin?

I am extremely fortunate to come from a family that valued the arts, and so I was engaged with visual arts from the beginning. My grandmother was an artist, and my mother was a proficient painter until she lost her vision later in my childhood. My favourite memories of my childhood are drawing, painting, or creating with these two. After leaving school I studied Visual Arts and Theatre Design at university, and held many creative jobs over the years, but I only decided to take my painting seriously in 2018. It was the best decision of my life.

Who has been your most interesting portrait subject?

I have two portraits currently in the works that are of incredible people for whom I have endless admiration. I can’t tell too much yet as I want these to be surprises! One is a close friend of mine who has overcome so many personal challenges in his life to become a role model for his community. The other portrait is of an incredible, West Australian woman who has faced enormous hardships in her life, to emerge one of our Nation’s best storytellers. Both of these people have an element of magic about them, and it is such an incredible privilege to be able to share a little bit of their story through my art.

Who was the most inspirational person for you as a young artist and what advice did they give you, that you can share with our students?

I have met many inspiring people over the years, and I can’t even say that the people who have most inspired me have been artists. You never know where you might meet someone who sparks a little flame in you – as artists our job is to be open to the world around us and everyone has a story. One through line that I’ve found is that curiosity and application are the things that will push you forward. The people you admire weren’t born with incredible skills, they worked consistently to get there. Mistakes are wonderful things that you learn from and shouldn’t be feared, perfection is a pointless pursuit. Ask questions or advice of people you admire, as you would be surprised at how generous people are with their knowledge. Finally, (and I know it sounds cliché) above all else, enjoy the process.

The girls have thoroughly enjoyed having Desiree at the College. Here is what some of the students had to say about the experience:

While Desiree was here, I enjoyed learning how to create portraits using oil paint, and we learnt new skills in mixing and blending colours to make the paintings look realistic. Caitlin Fong, Year 10

Though her time at Santa Maria was short, Desiree Crossing definitely made an impact in helping the Year 10s start their portrait pieces. We learned all about the importance of under layers and how to properly use oil paints to create a dynamic and vivid painting. She was always keen to help and guide us in the right choice of paints, in both tone and temperature. I, as well as the rest of the students wish her a happy farewell and we can’t wait for her next visit to see our paintings in the art exhibit. Harriet Noske, Year 10

Thank you, Desiree, for spending the last two weeks at the College and for sharing your knowledge with our girls.  

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