Miriam Stannage interview, 18 December 2014

Dublin Core


Miriam Stannage interview, 18 December 2014




Miriam Helen Stannage was born in 1939 in Northam, where her father was the Anglican priest. Her mother came from a farming family in the area. At the age of five, the family moved to Perth, where Miriam attended Perth College as a weekly boarder. She recalls one particular art teacher at Perth College – Robert Juniper – and as a child, remembers her father’s strong interest in art. In later years, her parents were very encouraging of her art practice.
After leaving school, Miriam did secretarial and nursing training and traveled overseas. On her return to Perth she began evening art classes with William Boissevain, then Henry Froudist, while supporting herself with secretarial work.
In 1965 she opened her own gallery, the Rhode Gallery, and formed the Contemporary Art Society with Guy Grey Smith. After winning the Albany Art Prize in 1970, Miriam took up the offer of the use of a studio space in Paris, where she lived and worked for several months. That experience was a key turning point in her art practice, and could be seen as the springboard for the development of her future work. She has exhibited extensively since opening the Rhode Gallery, in both solo and group exhibitions in Western Australia and nationally.
In 1990 Miriam bought a campervan and telescope. For several years she traveled throughout the state on her own, painting and using photography to create works, while developing her interest in the night sky.
The Art Gallery of Western Australia held a retrospective of her works in 1989 entitled Perception 1969-1989. In 2006 the John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University presented an exhibition of her work from 1989 to 2006 called Sensations. A retrospective of her work from the last 10 years is to be held at the Lawrence Wilson Gallery in 2016.
Miriam cites Turner, Giotto, Magritte and Mondrian as key artistic influences.


Stannage, Miriam


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Asutralia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Gillian Gallagher


Miriam Stannage


54 minutes, 47 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

0.00 Introduction
0.35 Statement of name, date and place of birth. Early childhood in Northam where father was an Anglican priest and mother came from farming family in the area. Moved to Perth at the age of six; boarding at Perth College. Impressions of life as a weekly boarder, life as a student. Memories of enjoying drawing geometry diagrams.
3.29 Art classes at Perth College, memories of one art teacher in particular – Robert Juniper. Place of art at home and childhood memories of father’s interest in art; mother’s creativity.
5.44 Left school at 15, did secretarial course while waiting to do nursing. Did two out of three years of nursing, decided not to pursue it as a career. Spent a year in Canberra as matron in boarding school. Returned to Perth and further office jobs.
8.17 1961: first overseas trip. Visited galleries with friends. Traveled to Canada, worked in a variety of jobs. Went to New York from Canada, visited several exhibitions. Photographed Guernica – strong memory of difficulty of photographing large scale work. Traveled from east coast of Canada to west coast by train.
10.35 Returned to Perth, 1962. More office work. Friends encouraged participation in adult education art classes at University of Western Australia. First teacher was William Boissevain. One of earliest paintings was of reflections in pool beside Undercroft. Continued adult education classes with Henry Froudist in Howard St, Perth, later on in a building on the corner of Milligan St and Hay St. Spent many years learning to paint with Henry Froudist, a Polish artist. Froudist inspired Miriam with idea of art as a commitment. Very encouraging of her work. Portrait classes held on Saturday mornings: sitters consisted of well known Perth entities including John Farnsworth Hall, Professor Ida Mann, Elizabeth Durack. Beginnings of idea that art could become a lifetime pursuit, encouraged by both Froudist and parents.
15.36 1967, established own gallery, the Rhode Gallery in Shenton Park. Showed young WA artists: Geoffrey Wake, Edith McNamara. Guy Grey Smith very supportive. Miriam not good at sales – too busy painting at back of gallery. Contemporary Society of Arts started in mid 60s. Guy Grey Smith president – organized interstate exhibitions. Members included John Tonkinson, Bill Hawthorn, Philippa O’Brian. Miriam was secretary of CSA.
17.47 Taking over Guy Grey Smith’s art therapy classes at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Heathcote. Guy Grey Smith and Miriam put up posters around the hospitals – this was before hospitals had acquisitions programs. Miriam was teaching and running her gallery at same time. Rhode Gallery named after father’s village in Northern Ireland. Gallery closed in 1967, taken over by Hesling Archer. Miriam continued to put her art into competitions.
20.38 1970: won Albany Art Prize, judged by Professor Bernard Smith, leading to seven month stay in Paris and use of studio there. Produced body of work in Paris, largely experimental, influenced by Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, American abstract painters. Enjoyed exhibitions in Paris, particularly one of frescoes from Florence. Lived and worked very near Notre Dame, attended free concerts there. Church music and choral music part of her background – mother used to be pianist and organist. Saw Chagall at a Matisse exhibition. Did several drawings in the underground – fascinated by perspective of people against large wall posters. Regrets not bringing more work back to Perth. May have destroyed too many of her own works. Travelled to London, visited places where Constable had painted.
27.10 Returned to Perth, more part time work; offered night time teaching classes at various technical colleges. Earlier solo show, 1969, at Old Fire Station. Rie Heymans very supportive of WA artists – very important figure in art world. Exhibiting at UWA in group exhibitions; first solo show at UWA in 1976 in Nolan Room.
29.08 Beginnings of interstate exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, starting with Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne. Works included crisscross writing series as well as large paintings of Kodak slides.
Origins of crisscross writing series and treatment of different subjects. Post Paris paintings – used the grays, sunlight and shadows of Paris.
31.35 Paris a turning point – felt she could develop own voice from that point. Influenced by ideas of conceptual movement, but not particular styles. Support from key people in art world – Patrick McCaughey, Charles and Barbara Blackman.
33.22 1980, married Tom Gibbons. Met Tom through Rie Heymans. Very different backgrounds. Both interested in the everyday. Tom interested in pop art, Miriam more interested in landscape. Complimentary way of working together. Interest in photography rekindled following visit to exhibition in Venice in 1979 with Tom. Had previously developed black and white prints in her teens. ‘Swung over’ to photography for several years. Printed her own work – created dark room in bathroom.
37.10 Late 80s: bush survival course. Wanted to relate to Australian landscape. Memories of survival course. Loved getting into the landscape. Survival course triggered ideas for photographic works as well as paintings. Fascinated by disasters of Australian outback – bushfires, floods, cyclones. Earlier photographs to do with history, newspapers; flood motif strong in painting. Many works relate to religion, biblical stories. Stations of the Cross shown at Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA). Viewers see different things, regardless of religion. Religious background part of identity. Wide use of Christian symbols. Reviews of her work - neither agrees nor disagrees with them. Work not visually the same, even though themes are the same.
43.54 1990: bought campervan, loved going off on her own. Work from this period about looking at ground, not broader views. Looks at evidence of human existence on the ground. Telescope in campervan. Belonged to astronomy group. Mesmerised by beauty of stars, subtlety of colours.
47.11 2000: Artist in Residence, Kellerberrin, through International Art Space (formerly IASKA). Kellerberrin near grandfather’s property at Tammin. Connection between people who started IASKA at Kellerberrin and grandfather’s farm. Felt at home in the town. Grandfather had given land for Tammin cemetery. Stations of the Cross series put up in church at Easter.
49.20 Key exhibitions: 1989 AGWA survey show (Perception 1969-1989), John Stringer’s comment; 2006, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University; major show of photographs - Words in the Landscape, Lawrence Wilson Gallery, 1993. Impressed with professionalism of all the people involved in mounting her exhibitions. Forthcoming exhibition at Lawrence Wilson Gallery – in 2016 – to deal with work of previous 10 years.
52.00 Currently working with photography, security series – to do with vision. Began with home burglary. Origins of focus on sight/seeing things – Froudist’s influence. Greatest artistic influences – mixed lot – Turner, Giotto; Mondrian, Magritte.



Stannage, Miriam, “Miriam Stannage interview, 18 December 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024, https://oralhistories.arts.uwa.edu.au/items/show/88.