Romy Cole-Groth is an abstract artist based out of Five Dock, Sydney. Her art forms are an extension of how she views the world - an impossible task to conjure her ideas into words, she turns to art as a synthesis. Using ink, pen and pastel, she generates forms that make you feel a palatable sensation that you can surround yourself in.
As we welcome her to the online store, and with a special exhibition at Yulli's Surry Hills, Amy and Bernie got to sit down with Romy to learn more about her successes, studies, inspirations and goals.
Could you describe your style for us?
I would describe my style as abstract, and it also plays along with spirit, colour, spontaneity and intuition.
What is it about abstraction that draws you?
It's the only thing I can really do! I went to TAFE to do drawing and I failed my subjects. In Year 12, my art teacher also told me to drop out of Visual Arts. Abstraction was the only way I could really get into the art world.
When I started doing it, though, it made so much sense. It turns out I've been doing abstract painting all my life. I remember the teachers would get mad at me because I would always be drawing these crazy paintings, and they'd be like 'what the hell are you doing?!'. Once I started putting my stuff into the world, I was like 'ahhh, this is what I've been doing this whole time'. I also have dyslexia and ADD, so it's very fitting.
What we like about abstraction – and your work is a really good example – is how it's so simple and yet so expressive. You can look at a line on a canvas and somehow feel all of the things, and I wondered if you also felt that?
Part of my work is actually playing on memory as well, so part of it is based on landscapes I've seen or feelings I've felt. If I'm in the right headspace, it translates really well into painting. I've had friends who've purchased my stuff and have it hanging in their house – strangely, always in their bedrooms – and I like that, because there's some intimacy in my paintings; a lot of emotion, love, and tenderness.
I can't explain why abstract art is so expressive, it just is. There's a lot of research out there on abstract art, and how colours, for example, can evoke different sounds or smells or tastes. It's like another sense almost, which is why it plays with you so much. I love it.
What gets you into a creating mood?
I think going into the art store. What I usually do if I feel uninspired or unmotivated, is to go into an art store and really think about the different textures of soft pastels or oil pastels, and the difference in quality they provide to paper.
I always work on paper because it gives a better 'give' to the tools I use, for instance pencils, water-colour pencils, textas, gel pens, ink and acrylic. My aim is to make colours that shouldn't belong together, belong together. If I make something that's gorgeous and feels right, with colours like pink, orange or muddy green, then I'm like 'YES, I've done it!'. I think that really inspires me.
How does a drawing make it from paper to silk scarf?
Once I've got the drawing on paper, I'll scan my image and send it through to the printers, who do a dye sublimation onto the silk scarf. I chose to start dying onto silk scarves because I had such a relationship between the materials I used and how they flowed onto the paper, and I wanted to extend that to people who saw them in the exhibition space. I wanted people to actually touch it. I'm such a tactile person, so making art for putting onto textiles was a natural progression for me.
We first heard about you at the Cake Wines exhibition last year, where you got People's Choice award. Now, you're collaborating internationally with brands like Paloma Wool. What's that progression been like on your side of things?
It's been pretty scary. I'm fairly anxious about these things because it's a lot. Working with Paloma has been really nice though, because we established a friendship and they've invited me to stay with them if I ever visit Spain. I'm really happy with that connection, and I feel like their work really aligns with mine.
Photo: Jonno Revanche @jonnoxrevanche.
As your practice takes off, do you feel that you've learned anything?
That the best thing in being an artist, whatever you do, is just confidence. Just do what you know or do what you don't know and put it out there confidently. I just started doing all this for fun, and I didn't expect anything from it at all.
When you look back at your old stuff, what do you feel about it?
I really like it! I first started painting after an arts mentorship at Bright Side PCYC in Woolloomooloo. They have a program where COFA students go down and mentor kids who have dropped out of high school. We were the mentors to help them complete a visual arts component and hopefully get into TAFE.
It was really fun, and that's when I started painting. Art schools tend to pump out these really nice refined oil paintings, but working with these kids was something playful and new. When I see my old stuff, I see a really novice quality, because I literally did not know what I was doing. I don't ever want to lose that in my work. I don't want to look too refined because it's not my style. It's not fun.
Who inspires you?
Oh my god, so many! Helen Frankenthaler, who was a post-war American painter. If you look up her in her studio, you'll see these photos of her sitting there perfectly, surrounded by these massive watercolour paintings. She looks like she's in a painted world. The use of colour, and the femininity in her work really inspires me. There's a lot of sexuality in her shapes.
I'm also inspired by Miyoko Ito, who was a Japanese painter. There's something deeply spiritual about her work and I firmly believe in it.
I just love these artists, because can you imagine doing abstract art back then? It must have been great and ground-breaking. It must have come from somewhere deep inside them. I feel all abstract painters have something in common, and I don't know what it is. When I figure it out, I'll write a PhD on it.
What are you listening to right now?
My Bloody Valentine. The Strokes. I have a diverse range - I have my Emo days, I have my Soul days, I've got my Jazz days. I love Italian disco, that's my numero uno. I don't know why more clubs around Sydney don't have disco!
What's your favourite home cooked flavour?
That's so hard because I love cooking. At the moment, I think it would have to be the vegan dosai from Orange Grove Markets. There's this lovely lady who cooks them herself - vegan, gluten-free, chickpeas, lentils, and this coconut curry thing on top which is to die for.
Where are you headed next? What's in the future for you?
I'm applying for residencies overseas at the moment – Spain, Mexico... Basically anywhere that doesn't speak English. I've got a year and a half of university left, but I'd like to break it up a bit. I do a double degree in Social Policy & Research and Art Theory. I would eventually love to be a lecturer in either.
I'm also applying to different magazines that I like, and one day I'd really like to write an illustrated children's book.
Where can people see more of your work?
On Instagram @romes_cg.
Any last words?
I think abstract art is going in a really good direction, with really current local people doing some great things. Take Spence Messih, for example. They did this amazing object abstract art piece at Alaska Projects that was about queer identities, and they spoke about abstract art being very queer itself because it's quite ambiguous in its forms. They had this flat sheet made from medicated testosterone gel, so it had this amazing surface and texture to it.
I'm doing Abstract Art as a lecture at uni at the moment, and it's dry. The lecturer talks about nothing but artists in the 1800s, and I'm like 'Girl, abstract art is a completely new thing now'. //
Photo credit: Jonno Revanche @jonnoxrevanche.
With models Shareeka, Leila, Tabitha and Amber, close friends of Romy's.
Interview transcript by Visha.
Romy’s artworks are now available on the 107 Objects e-store and are currently exhibiting at Yulli's Surry Hills Restaurant. Opening times: Mon 5 - 10 pm & Tue-Sun 11:30am - 10pm.
Visit objects.107.org.au to see more from our favourite independent and emerging artists!