21 October 2019

Braidwood artist in Bondi's famous 'Sculpture by the Sea'

| Elise Searson
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Naomi Taylor Royds – Memory Blocks, 2017. Photo: Supplied

Art is a regurgitation of one’s life – a blend of consciousness and sub-consciousness. Sometimes the concept is unexplainable. For Braidwood’s Naomi Taylor Royds sculpture metaphorically tells the story of her life – the triumphs and tribulations.

Her art even takes in a trip to the emergency ward nine years ago where she had an epiphany, which signalled a new and unexpected path and made a beeline to Bondi’s ‘Sculpture by the Sea‘, the most celebrated sculpture exhibition in Australia.

“It was at this time I suffered a rare heart episode called ‘Taku Tsubo Syndrome’,” Naomi explains.

“This is a form of cardiomyopathy caused by stress or other highly emotional triggers. I know it sounds such a cliché but whilst lying in the Accident and Emergency Room at Prince of Wales Hospital – I had completed my Nursing training here years before! – attached to a multitude of machinery and IV equipment, not knowing what my outcome would be, I made a promise to myself.

“If I survived I would change many things in my life but most importantly I would pursue one of my life long passions – Art.

“In what capacity I wasn’t too sure but I had always enjoyed making, creating and looking at any type of art form! I now really understood that life can change in an instant and that we only get one chance at it – so I should do something I wholeheartedly enjoyed.”

Before her big Bondi unveiling on Thursday (October 24) it was a great pleasure for me to correspond with Naomi and share her found wisdom, scroll along with our conversation…

You’re now living a life most artists dream of, abundant with industry achievement and acknowledgment. What stopped you pursuing your passion before being forced into it by your heart condition?

I have always been passionate about art and all things creative. My parents are both very creative, as are my brothers, however when I was at school in Sydney students were not encouraged to view Art or Fine Arts as a career – it’s a different story now as are the creative choices in schools. I come from a medical family so it seemed natural to follow this course.

I loved being a Midwife and had I lived in a city or larger town I would have continued this career – I did work as a Midwife for a while but the late, late nights and shift work, driving home on deserted country roads wasn’t much fun!

Over the years I have always taken up one craft or another and particularly enjoyed making anything with my children –two of whom are now in creative fields.

When a catastrophic event, particularly a health event, happens to you it makes you rethink the path your life is taking and what is really important – you only get one go at this life so you need to have the courage to follow those passions and see where they lead. I’d hate to look back and wonder ‘what If?’

What are the challenges if any of working from Braidwood?

At the moment the biggest challenge I have is not having a proper workshop – my husband and I are in the process of doing major house renovations on our farm in Braidwood. He’s been great at setting up a space in the interim. I’ve recently been able to purchase a welder, plasma cutter, steel roller and a few other smaller items that I’ve used for my smaller works in Sculpture by the Sea.

Canberra is close by and as I went to ANU and only recently graduated, I have a great network of friends in the arts in the area. Braidwood has had a reputation for the arts and creativity for many years so there are many like-minded people around – quite a few I’m still to meet as the town is becoming ever more popular!

I could say that one major challenge is our internet connection!!! – it can be very slow and during summer weekends and holidays pretty non-existent because of the huge numbers of traffic travelling from Canberra to the coast.

How does your community embrace local artists?

Braidwood is a wonderful, supportive community for artists.

I’ve lived here for over 30 years and in the past have been quite active in the community, however, due to various circumstances – health, university etc I’ve only just really begun to reconnect again.

Many people in the area that are familiar to me or my husband, Rodney, wouldn’t even know that I am an artist, that I recently went to university, that I’ve had work in a number of exhibitions or that I have a sculpture in Sculpture by the Sea this year!

Actually, Rodney is my strongest advocate and supporter as are my three adult children – which is great as I’m a bit of an introvert when it comes to talking about myself!!!

How does it feel to exhibit in one of the most prestigious sculpture exhibitions in Australia?

I feel so privileged and fortunate! I am in incredible company, alongside many of Australia’s best sculptors and I certainly don’t take this for granted.

I have been going to Sculpture by the Sea for so many years – way before I even thought about going to art school! To have a work in this exhibition is wonderful – it has been on my list of goals for a few years now.

It’s been a fantastic experience so far!!!

We all have such unique childhoods, telling our stories through art requires such vulnerability, how did you find the courage to share yours?

I believe to be an artist one has to be vulnerable and honest.

Over the last few years I’ve been through some extremely traumatic experiences and this has given me the opportunity to reassess my place in this world. I’m more comfortable with who I am – it’s amazing how freeing it can be to let go of toxic people in your life!

My childhood was wonderful. I’ve really only recently begun to reflect upon how fortunate I was growing up with generous, adventurous, loving parents – as both reach their twilight years.

My father now has Alzheimer’s Dementia, which is incredibly sad, but this has encouraged my family to reminisce and talk about our experiences growing up. My parent’s decision to return to Australia from the United States in the late 1960’s was the right choice as growing up around Sydney Harbour was magical- we are so lucky to live in this country.

There’s an old saying ‘fortune favours the brave’, looking back at the decisions you’ve made in your life, can you relate to this?

That’s a toughie – I’ve made a few bad decisions in the past but that’s the past and hopefully, I’ve learnt from them!

Bravery comes in so many forms.

This may sound soppy and sentimental but seriously, when I was lying in Accident and Emergency at Prince of Wales Hospital – nine years ago now- hooked up to all sorts of tubes, oxygen, IV’s, ECG machines etc. etc, in unbelievable pain, not knowing how things would turn out – I had time for deep reflection and believe that things do happen for a reason. My life has now turned out to be very different to the one I was expecting and that others were expecting for me. This is a wonderful thing!

Bravery comes with uncertainty but that’s the beauty of it – the possibilities not only for success but for experiences to learn from. Having supportive people around you is also incredibly important – we all need family and friends that believe in us.

How can we inspire regional artists to take risks in order to reach their full potential?

This is a hard question – more government funding would be good!

Mentorships are also really positive experiences as are attending workshops and residencies in Australia and overseas.

Leading by example, encouraging other artists, letting them know of opportunities, encouragement, support and sharing knowledge. Distance really shouldn’t be a barrier as many artists get their inspiration from their surrounding landscapes.

I believe that there are actually many opportunities around – you just have to put yourself out there, get involved with your local community, there are lots of great art competitions you can enter online and call-outs for exhibitions.

If you are truly passionate about your craft you’ll find ways of reaching your potential!!!

Sculpture by the Sea‘ is an annual exhibition on the foreshore of Bondi and runs October 24 to November 10, head along and cheer for Braidwood’s Naomi Taylor Royds

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