LIGHTHOUSES and the sea tie Fremantle and Rottnest Island together. Apt then that Fremantle Arts Centre’s first Rottnest artist-in-residence Lorraine Biggs uses the themes to draw on her family history in her work.
With a bushy white beard, captain’s hat and a parrot on his shoulder, Biggs’ great-grandfather Robert McGuire cut a well-known figure around Fremantle in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Hailing from the UK he’d run away to sea at 15 and was shipwrecked twice before eventually settling down as keeper at the original Rottnest Island lighthouse and later at the lighthouse on Fremantle’s Arthur Head—both long since demolished.
During her 10-week residency Biggs spent two weeks cycling and walking Rotto before heading back to the FAC building where she continues to trace her ancestor’s life.
“I imagine him being at the lighthouse at night and seeing the light arcing across the landscape and sea,” she says. “He was known to be a nature lover…I think he would have enjoyed the isolation.”
Biggs’ sketches, drawn on location around the island, encapsulate the landscape, built and natural. Along with sketches around Fremantle they form an “artists’ notebook” of ideas, to be followed up with full-sized works when she returns home to Tasmania’s wild north-east coast, for an exhibition down the track.
Born in Fremantle, Biggs moved to Tassie to complete a post grad after gaining a Claremont College of Art degree: “I thought I was going for one year and have been there 22,” she smiles.
She inherited “salt in her blood” from her forebears—perfect for Tasmania’s rugged, clean coast—and many of her paintings are seascapes.
“I couldn’t wait to go to sea when I was younger,” she says. “I had this urge to go and work on a pearl boat in Broome, before I ever found out about the family history.”
Biggs’ artist-in-residence project is funded by the federal government’s regional arts program, in partnership with Tasmanian Regional Arts.
For more about the project, including pictures and photos, check out Fremantle Arts Centre’s blog.
by JENNY D’ANGER