The Argus XXXVII

Julz Beresford by Michael Sharp

Words: Michael Sharp

Photography: Ashley Mackevicius

Being outdoors and in nature has always been at the heart of Julz Beresford’s existence, from her early years roaming around the family farm to today’s tinny trips on The Hawkesbury River and solo hikes in The Snowy Mountains.

“I love going to different locations and landscapes,” she says. “I’m happy outside and totally inspired by nature. I head out with my paints and I don’t have any pre-fixed ideas – it’s more about how the day evolves, the light, the weather, the seasons. I make gouache studies and when I come back to my studio I use them as a reminder of what it was like when I was out there.

“I’m interested in not just painting what I see – I want to paint how I feel in the landscape too.”

Beresford enjoyed a happy childhood on a property in rural New South Wales.

“I was a really busy kid who lived outside and loved riding bikes, climbing, playing with our horses and chickens, always creating and making things.”

The property was only a few hours’ drive from The Snowy Mountains and her family would go camping there in summer while in winter they would ski at Mount Selwyn. So began a lifelong love of this landscape with its meadows, mountain rivers and snow gums.

When she was seven years old, her family moved to Sydney.

“My parents became really keen boaties. We’d hire yachts and go sailing, so I experienced the Hawkesbury from a very young age. I just loved being out on the water. It was how I was brought up and it was part of who I was.”

It was on these cherished sailing trips that she first learned to draw and paint.

“Mum liked being creative. She would take drawing stuff with us and I’d draw with her using charcoal.”

A seed had been planted and Beresford studied Art at school, including 3 Unit Art for her Higher School Certificate (HSC). She was inspired by the local bushland, walking and jogging through the Ku-ring-Gai Chase National Park whenever she could.

“There had been bad bushfires north of Sydney, so I collected charcoal and used it to draw with in my major work. I was pretty dedicated in Year 12. I used to paint at lunchtimes, which the Art Department thought was quite unusual. But I just loved it.”

After finishing high school “I wanted to do what I loved and I Ioved painting. It’s all I wanted to do. I wanted to go to COFA [College of Fine Arts] and fortunately I got in.”

She specialised in painting, drawing and printmaking and was inspired by tutors such as Idris Murphy. It was a wonderful three years but she laughs and admits: “I was partying far too much and just passed in the end.”

I’m in London still

After graduating from COFA, Beresford travelled overseas with friends. She bought a one way ticket “because I knew I’d be there a long time”. After six months of travelling she ran out of money and found a job in the ski fields of France before crossing The Channel to London, ready for a new challenge.

“A girl I studied with at COFA was working as a photographer’s assistant. She said: ‘Julz, I’ve found this great career for you – food styling.’ I said: “What’s that?”

Her friend gave her a brief description and Beresford decided it was a great idea.

“I visited the local library and went through food magazines. I made a list of all the best food stylists that were busy and in the good magazines. I found their phone numbers and just rang them.”

This old fashioned cold-calling soon produced results.

“I was really lucky,” she says. “I worked with some of the best food stylists in London, giving me a great foundation in the industry.”

Busy in her new career, her art was placed on the back burner. She would draw or paint occasionally in her bedroom “but nothing consistent, which you need to do to get better”.

Creativity calls

Beresford returned to Australia after eight years abroad and set up her career as a freelance food stylist. As time passed, however, it became increasingly apparent that this career wasn’t creative enough for her any longer. She decided to limit her work as a food stylist and paint as often as she could in her garage.

She summoned the courage to post some of her paintings on Instagram and these images attracted the interest of Amber Creswell Bell, Director Emerging Art for the Michael Reid galleries.

“Amber kindly offered me the opportunity to exhibit in a group show and that led to an invitation to participate in A Painted Landscape, a group exhibition at the Michael Reid Berlin gallery in late 2020.”

She participated in two more shows the following year at the new Michael Reid Northern Beaches gallery before being invited to hold her first solo show, in March 2022, at Michael Reid Northern Beaches. This was followed by solo exhibitions at Michael Reid Southern Highlands in November 2022 and Michael Reid’s Sydney headquarters in January 2024. All three of these solo shows sold out.

On the water

Beresford’s Sydney home is about 10 minutes from Cottage Point, a secluded Sydney suburb of just 50 homes that is less than an hour’s drive north of Sydney. It sits serenely at the junction of Cowan and Coal & Candle Creeks and is surrounded by the beautiful bushland of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This is Beresford’s favoured base for exploring the Hawkesbury River and, as a regular customer, she is welcomed warmly by the staff at Cottage Point Kiosk and Boat Hire.

She usually books a tinny for two or three hours “but I often lose track of time and am out there for longer and have to apologise. There is something very peaceful and restful about being on the water. You are on your own, miles from anywhere. There is no mobile phone reception and you can really tune into nature. It’s like a release for me, being on the water. I feel alive, I feel amazing.”

Asked if she has any favourite spots, she replies: “I love being in a little bay with a hill in the distance. And I love the shadowy side of the Hawkesbury. There is always a sunny side and a shadowy side and I stick to the shadowy side. I like its moodiness and the depths of colours you can find. I’m really interested in colour and every time I go out it’s different because of the light, the time of day, the season, whether it’s rained the day before. I want to find the uniqueness of that day.”

In the studio

With her gouache field studies around her, Beresford gets to work.

“I am quite expressive in the way I paint. I’m very physical. It’s a fast, back and forward, back and forward, on the painting, off the painting, joyful and intense time. And I paint wet on wet, alla prima. It’s all about the moment, trying to convey the energy of the place and, I suppose, my relationship with it.

“I always scratch and draw in the composition, putting in the darker tones and building up. I use a brush for most of the early stages – I put on and take off, put on and take off – and I love keeping those brush marks visible in the painting.”

Beresford’s use of a palette knife “goes back to my food styling days of icing cakes and getting the cream perfect. I love the yummy ooziness of the oil paint and I use a medium to thin them out a bit and give them that luscious, velvety feel.”

Not everything will go to plan but Beresford revels in the problem solving aspects of her craft: “That bit’s not right, fix it; and that bit’s not right, fix that – it’s constant.”

Even during this brief visit, her passion for painting is evident.

“I am really focused when I’m in the studio,” she admits. “I literally fall into a trance. I have to set an alarm because otherwise I forget to pick up the kids from school.”

As Time Drifts on a River’s Path

Beresford’s latest exhibition, titled As Time Drifts on a River’s Path, features paintings from the two regions she has had a close relationship with since her childhood and with which she still has a deep connection: The Snowy Mountains and The Hawkesbury River.

“I tend not to paint the Hawkesbury all year because I yearn to improve my trade and I believe to get better I need to shift gear to a different landscape. It’s important for me to jump around a little bit. It keeps me alive and makes me really think about what I am trying to achieve.”

And what is she trying to achieve?

“I am always questioning myself, asking if I am expressing the feeling of the place when I paint. I want to capture the moments when I was on the water or the magic of the mountains. I want to remember the way I held the paintbrush while I was out there ‘plein air’ because it felt right. Each painting has its own story.”

Pieces of paper attached to her studio walls have handwritten notes reminding her to “express the purpose of place”, “celebrate the paint” and “lose yourself in the moment of expression”.

Remarkably, Beresford has only been painting full time for three years. She has built a strong following and is looking forward to the future with her characteristic calm yet energetic determination.

“I’m totally addicted. I can’t get enough of it. I know the only way I’m going to get better is to keep practising, to keep working every day. It’s who I am now.”


As Time Drifts on a River’s Path will be showing at Michael Reid Southern Highlands until 24 March.

Ashley Mackevicius

Michael Sharp

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