Deborah Halpern, one of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors, is a Melbournian and occasional Elizabeth Bay local.
She was pulled into the area by Arthouse Gallery and was hooked on the postcode after exploring the surroundings.
Halpern is best known for her bright, tactile sculptures which have been celebrated in major national institutions. Her works have animated many public spaces and she told me that the light, water and flora of Elizabeth Bay have been a subconscious influence on her style.
I recently sold Deborah’s unit in Elizabeth Bay, and we had a conversation about her long-distance love affair with the suburb.
What drew you to the area?
I live and work in Melbourne but I am represented by Arthouse Gallery in Rushcutters Bay. I’ve been coming up and down to Sydney for quite a while. I would often bring my car and stay in a motel. I used to walk all around the Rushcutters Bay area. I would explore and go across to Elizabeth Bay, go up to Potts Point or walk over the hill to Woollahra, then back down to the Arthouse Gallery. Sometimes I would walk to the Botanic Gardens or down to Circular Quay. Just exploring that whole area was fantastic. It’s so different to Melbourne, which is very flat. It’s just an extraordinary wonderland.
What convinced you to actually buy here?
I loved coming here. I was interested in the way that Kings Cross – which has such a reputation – is juxtaposed alongside prestigious Elizabeth Bay and Potts Point. I loved this mixture of all different types of people.
I also fell in love with the gardens. Sydney has got all of these amazing plants like frangipanis which we just don’t have in Melbourne.
I was coming up to Sydney so often that I was craving my own little bolt hole, which was my extraordinary little studio unit in Elizabeth Bay. When I found my unit I was astonished. Someone had lived there their whole life and it looked like someone had lived there their whole life. I just fell in love with it. You can see The Bridge and the ferries from the windows and it’s just quintessential Sydney. It encapsulates everything I love about the city. When you are looking out you feel like you are staring at a living painting. It’s just magical!
Have the surroundings influenced your art?
There’s a real lightness about Sydney and then there’s the water, which is really what Sydney is about. This might sound like a cliché but in Melbourne we get all excited about the cosiness, wood fires at night and where I live the bush is a big feature.
If you go to Melbourne in winter everyone is indoors, but Sydney it’s all light and sunny. Everyone is in shorts and T-shirts. There are lots of people with dogs in Rushcutters Bay. People are doing Pilates in the park and exercising. It’s a different feeling, which is why the two cities complement each other.
It’s impacted my work for sure. The light, the water, the whole tropical feel of Sydney has to influence you in some way.
If you could design an artwork in Sydney, what would you do?
I would do it in Rushcutters Bay because there’s a bit of space there. It would be great to have a few sculptures that would create an environment for kids to play amongst them. Parents could hang out and the kids could just muck about while the parents are sitting there having a cup of coffee. Just something tucked into the space so that it’s not interrupting any sports activities. It would be something to embrace and celebrate that outdoorsy feel of Sydney.
Where do you like to go for coffee when you are visiting?
What else do you like to do when you are in the neighbourhood?
I just love walking through it. I love the walk from Rushcutters Bay where you go up these fabulous little steps which wind between through the buildings. If you keep walking you are in Potts Point and then Woolloomooloo. There are so many things along the way that are just characteristic of Sydney. You don’t get that anywhere else.
To see more of Deborah Halpern’s work visit her website.
Check out the amazing view from this studio apartment on my instagram.