Talking surfing, art and city living with pro surfer and watercolour artist Felicity Palmateer.
Felicity Palmateer hails from the rural beach town of Margaret River in WA. Comprising of a few quiet streets and a wild, isolated coastline, it’s a far cry from Bondi, and the bustling café where I met her recently. She described herself as a young teenage tomboy, sporting dreadlocks and knee-length boardies, surfing with the boys and learning to take the same beatings they did. These days she’s got long, flowing locks, drinks almond milk lattes and draws mandalas like they’re going out of fashion. And draws them very well, mind you. Actually, she is an accomplished watercolour artist and illustrator, throws pottery, makes surfboard art AND is a professional surfer. Seriously Floss, share some of that talent around will ya? We spoke about surfing, art and a few things in between.
How does where you come from influence the art you make?
The raw and untouched landscape of Margaret River, and the ocean, are big inspirations for me. And with watercolours, I can transfer the fluidity of the ocean into my art. My dad throws pottery, so I grew up around ceramic art. I’d say he has been my biggest influence. Pippin Drysdale is another ceramicist whose work I love. She is inspired – as I am – by the Australian landscape, particularly the Kimberley and the outback. I like the deep reds, the earthy colours that she uses. I especially love the red earth of W.A. when it reaches the sea, like in Gnaraloo, and that contrast.
I’ve found myself on planes a lot in the last couple of years, and the view of central Australia from above, and of the ocean from the plane window, have inspired some of my latest work.
What’s it been like coming from somewhere with good quality, uncrowded waves, to the Eastern suburbs of Sydney?
It was a really big move for me. As they say, you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl. The city can be daunting at times. But WA is so far from everything and I need to be more accessible for my career. And for my surfing it’s exactly what I need. I grew up surfing big, powerful waves, and I need practice in the smaller stuff. Those are the kinds of waves you often get on the QS.
Do the crowds get you down?
I go surfing for the great feeling you have when you get out of the water. No matter what, you’re always going to feel better. So I just try to appreciate the little things.
Which space, the city or the country, is more nurturing of creativity in your experience?
A balance is really important. At home, I’m inspired by nature and beauty. I can work on these huge pieces and nothing matters. In the city there are more young people doing creative things. I can see what’s going on in the mainstream. But in a way it’s good not be aware of that too. Originality is increasingly hard to find. In my view, it’s when you accept failure as a possibility – but you dive in anyway – that you are most likely going to succeed.
Do you enjoy competing?
I do love to compete, although I’ve made the decision to put time into my art this year, which has meant missing a few QS events.
There is so much more to surfing than just competing, I think. When you start surfing you don’t do it to become a professional surfer. You do it because you love it. You develop competitiveness as you get older. It’s not the same as some other sports, like track & field say, which is all about being the best or the fastest from day one.
What are your thoughts on the way female surfers are represented in the media?
This is a tricky question. I think there is a problem. I have Instagram, and I look sometimes at the profiles of the girls who follow me and like or comment on my photos. It’ll be like ‘Sally, 12 years old, single.’ Their profiles will be like soft porn ads. I don’t want girls to think that to be valued in society they need to show skin. There’s much more to people than that. It’s up to each individual, but I always think three times about the stuff I’m posting on social media beforehand, because I know that young girls are really impressionable.
Felicity’s exhibition ‘Bombora’ opens in Sydney on Thursday 5th Feb at 5pm at The William Street Gallery, Paddington. The gallery will be open to the public from Saturday 6th Feb - Sunday 8th Feb.