Artist Corinne Loxton in her Blaxland studio. (Photo: Julie Nance)
By Julie Nance
Lower Blue Mountains artist Corinne Loxton has used daily walks in the bush, journaling and painting to help her overcome culture shock and a personal crisis, and to connect more deeply with herself and the rest of the natural world.
- Slowing down, immersing yourself in the beauty and fragility of nature, and noticing the many small details in life around you, is a form of ‘mindfulness’ that has been shown to reduces stress and anxiety.
- For Corinne, walking in the bush is a meditative, contemplative practice; one that helped her overcome a major personal crisis.
Throughout her childhood, Corinne Loxton’s daily life in Cape Town, South Africa, was anchored by Table Mountain, looming above her bedroom window. When she came to Australia at age 15, she felt displaced. It wasn’t until the landscape and sky artist moved from Sydney to the lower Blue Mountains years later that she regained a sense of belonging.
Out on the water in her little one-person boat, nature threw everything at 10-year-old Corinne: strong winds, rain and storms. She spent hours each week sailing in her hometown, with the mountain a familiar, reassuring backdrop.
“I was always immersed in the landscape, and I felt as if my day was almost determined by the mood of the mountain,” Corinne says. “I’d be very aware of the clouds, the mist, the colours. From as early as I can remember, I’ve always had a mystical relationship with nature.”
Without Table Mountain to orient her daily life in Australia, Corinne was disoriented.
“I felt this cultural shock and the foreignness of the environment; the difference in smells and colours,” she recalls. “I spent a long time living in cities – Canberra and Sydney – but I still wanted to paint landscape.”
Corinne experienced nature by looking up at the sky, creating quite abstract, colour-filled sky paintings.
Breathing Space, 2011, reflecting Corinne’s focus on the sky while living in the city. (Corinne Loxton)
After moving to Blaxland in 2012 as a single mum of three children aged 12, 7 and 5, Corinne started walking in the bush behind her home near Cripple Creek. Organically her paintings moved from the sky to capturing the ground, trees and other flora, thriving, struggling and evolving.
Watch Corinne painting in the bush behind her home, where she feels a deep connection. It’s a place that fuels her both personally and professionally
She says the “poetry of interaction with nature” nourishes her personally and strongly influences her work. Walking in the bush is essential to her practice.
“The walking, the noticing, journaling, all of those things are important to setting the groundwork for feeling centred and grounded.” – Corinne Loxton
“For instance, this morning when I went into the bush, I opened my senses to what was going on around me. I noticed my movements, my emotions and experienced what was happening around me: how loud the bees were; watching the tiny birds darting around; the shifting colours and the seeds; how the seasons cause things to change.”
Corinne painting in the bushland behind her home in November 2023. (Photo supplied)
Corinne usually walks along the same local tracks and has noticed both subtle and more dramatic changes in the landscape over the past decade. She now sees cliffs that were once hidden by trees and banksias dying and falling to the ground.
“I’m noticing the decay and the renewal and trying to make sense of that,” she says. “My work reflects the deep relationship I have with this place.”
Wisdom of Trees I, 2023: “For over 10 years I have walked past this tree in the bushland near my home. As though by a miracle, it emerges from a crevice in the sandstone rock and stands serenely overlooking the valley below.” (Corinne Loxton)
Corinne has carved out a successful 30-year career as a painter, supplementing her income intermittently with casual teaching in local high schools. She regularly runs evening, full day and weekend workshops in her studio.
In 2020 Corinne faced an overwhelming personal crisis which upended all aspects of her life and sent her into a “massive shame spiral”. Her paintings, usually gestural, ethereal land and skyscapes unintentionally took on a more realistic tone. Corinne found it unsettling when people began to comment that her paintings looked like photos.
In her studio the tiny brush strokes on the canvas, the increasing level of detail, helped Corinne focus and block out the negative thoughts invading her mind.
Glenbrook Lagoon had already emerged as a sacred space. During the height of Corinne’s crisis, she created a large series of paintings that spoke to human experiences of joy, hope, loss and longing.
Looking Glass, 2022: “This painting portrays a reflected world that could almost be flipped over, paralleling my search for truth, and questioning reality. Dark trees began framing and partially obscuring the landscape beyond, acting both metaphorically and visually as a barrier or line of containment.” (Corinne Loxton)
For a few months Corinne ceased painting altogether and had to slowly rebuild her crushed confidence and self-esteem. She found solace in the simple things in life: chatting with her teenage children, gardening, yoga and journaling. Every day she walked in the bush, a meditative, contemplative practice that was central to her healing.
In a TEDx Katoomba talk in June this year, Corinne spoke of the wise advice her ‘gran’ gave her as a teenager, proving to be pivotal to her recovery as an adult. Walking the cliffs of a fishing village in the western cape of South Africa, she used to stop and breathe, slow down and notice what was happening around her.
“The rocks, the lichen, the colours in the clouds, the creatures in the water or wriggling on the track. Decades before the popularisation of mindfulness, my gran showed me how to be present and bathe in nature.” – Corinne Loxton
About 11,000 kilometres as the crow flies from her hometown, Corinne remembered to stop “pushing and striving” and soak in the reality of the Blue Mountains bush. As she slowed things down her desire to paint intensified. Back in her studio she produced tiny sky paintings and tree artworks, full of detail that proved to be “restorative”.
Evensong V, 2022: Exploring little sky paintings. (Corinne Loxton)
Into & Beyond V, 2022: Part of a series of 30 x 30 cm images of densely wooded bushland. They are incredibly detailed paintings that took many days to make with tiny brushes. (Corinne Loxton)
A blend of time, nature, self-care, family, friends and painting helped restore Corinne’s sense of self and renewed her creativity. She painted recently in the open air at Glen Davis, 70 km north of Lithgow in the Capertee Valley.
“It was a wonderful, immersive experience working in the outdoors each day, with all the challenges and joys of the elements,” she says. “Being grounded in nature, tramping through valleys and over clifftops, eating smoky food around the fire and waking with the birds at first light: all this renewed my passion and revitalised my spirit.”
Glowing Cliffs, Glen Davis, 2023: A recent plein air (outdoors) painting made over a few hours. (Corinne Loxton)
- View Corinne’s latest works at her exhibition Realms and Ranges, plein air and studio paintings in the Capertee Valley and the Blue Mountains. 10am-4pm, 2-3 December at 12 Jamison St, Blaxland.
- Explore your creativity through music, dance, poetry, writing, whatever brings you joy. If you would like to try your hand at painting, check out Corinne’s workshops.
- Give yourself permission to slow down and pay attention to what’s around you; the beauty in your world, even if it’s just watching an insect crawling along the footpath.
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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.