A 20-year stint in outback Queensland, followed by a return home to the gentler hills of north-east Victoria, informs the work of award-winning painter Kathy Ellem.

Story Terri Cowley

Kathy Ellem had been painting for the best part of a decade when the live export ban of 2011, combined with a severe drought in rural Queensland, caused her to question her creative purpose. “We knew of people going out and shooting the cows and then they shot themselves,” Kathy says. “I really thought, ‘Why am I doing this and what am I saying?’ Aggressive or angry paintings wasn’t me. I wanted people to realise those in the bush are not stupid and that we want to look after the animals and environment – I wanted to share that in a quiet way.
To say, ‘Here is the joy of being out here’.”

The 45-year-old artist has more than achieved that goal. She’s had 10 solo exhibitions and has won about as many awards across the country and in the US. Kathy is best known for her incredibly nuanced and lifelike paintings of draught horses, which saw her win the National Equine Art Prize a few years back. Earlier this year she was a finalist in the Ravenswood Australian Women’s Art Prize.

“A lot of people think I must know a lot about horses, but because I know nothing about what the confirmation of a good horse is, I don’t have a preconceived notion,” Kathy says. “I actually paint that horse. As soon as people see the painting they can identify every individual animal.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021