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  • Writer's pictureElle

Chatting to Taz

*We aim to aspire to inspire as we chat to others, picking their brains, exploring their gifts and practices.

All posts are raw & unedited because f**k none of us are perfect & it is time to celebrate that - I'm here for the honest & real, you?

Who are you?

My name is Tasmin Witkamp, but I usually just go by Taz.
I am an oil painter living on the South Coast of NSW, but I am originally from Avalon on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. I grew up in my family’s heritage studio where my great grandfather, my grandfather and my mum all used to paint. Mum taught me pretty much everything I know.

I followed my love for Australian bushland and vast landscapes and moved to the tiny coastal village of Manyana, where I now paint full time. My dad helped me make his place into a comfortable little studio where I paint and my partner Pog makes my frames out of recycled hardwood. I love painting and it takes up 99% of my time and brain space, however I also love surfing, snowboarding and bushwalking.

A song or movie to represent your life.

Spotlight by The Waifs- Gives me goosebumps every time.

Where do you pull inspiration from?

This beautiful place we call earth.

My partner and I have been exploring our local wilderness ever since we were home bound a couple of years ago. I found a new appreciation for Australian bushland when we returned home to see the devastation of the 2019/20 bushfires. What was previously scrub and dense forest, had become hollow and desolate. The land, she was exposed vulnerable. We could see, for the first time in decades, her raw skin. Granite boulders formed precarious cliffs. Charred banksias stood like dark cracks in the sky and the sad remnants of tall eucalypts punctured the dry hills.

It was heartbreaking to see what had become of this efficient ecosystem, and all the life it had sustained.

There was an uncanny parallel, watching the bushland recover as the pandemic tested our patience. It was a lesson in resilience and growth. Australian bushland is full of Pyrophytes- plants that are resilient to fire, and even harness it, in-order to re-grow. To thrive in the face of destruction.

Nature. She is so complex, and I am in awe.

Resin glued seed pods burst open for the first time in years and blackened trunks of eucalypts grew purple shoots with waxy teal leaves, standing like pipe cleaners along the road.

Two years on, looking into vast valleys and trudging though spikey scrub, I dissect the different shapes and colours that are so unique to the Australian landscape.
She is both soft and sharp, warm and cold. Soaked in contrast. To paint a part of her is to observe with intimate detail every leaf and its shadow. I am honoured to celebrate her.

How do you share your gift with others?

It used to be really daunting to share something so personal that I have made in the privacy of my studio. I think I realised somewhere along the line that I am my worst critic, and that I just needed to start sharing my work to gage what people wanted to see more of.

The response from my friends and family has been so overwhelming and I have been handed so much confidence just through the support of everyone online and offline. Instagram is a really good tool for artists because it is so visual- no explanation needed. I had a small but supportive following and during covid lockdowns I would just have virtual exhibitions. It was really hard work doing the admin myself, especially the packing and posting.

When I was signed by the local gallery in Milton (Van Rensburg Gallery) I was beside myself. It was the opportunity to just paint and let someone else do the paperwork. I had a show in February at the gallery and the success of the whole event was just wild.
Its pretty exciting to see my stuff hanging on crispy well-lit walls, for all my friends to see, but I also love that it is something that connects me to a community of artists and art-lovers online too.

Probably one of the most literal ways of sharing my work was when I was live painting in bars when I was living in Japan. That was an interactive and fun way to connect with people through art. I would just paint for hours as background entertainment while people would dance and drink. It was such a thrill for me as someone who usually paints alone.

What has been a challenge been when establishing your work / business?

In my early 20’s I had always been in and out of australia, I had a serious case of the travel bug. Between snow seasons and backpacking around Europe and Asia I worked a lot of hospitality jobs, doing 12 hour days to fund my next adventure. It was the best time of my life and I will never regret seeing the world.

When Covid dragged me home, I decided to start taking my art making more seriously. I set up my instagram and started applying for grants and working towards creating a body of work. It is scary watching your savings deplete. I worked in the corner shop for some extra cash, and I found it really hard to give up shifts in-order to paint. Money is so addictive, especially when you do a job that is so familiar to your definition of “work”.

Redefining what it means to have a normal “job” was a big challenge for me. Turning down friends to be in the studio made me feel like I was just being lazy, or antisocial.

Its my job now and I will happily tell people I have work today or I am in the studio so I’m busy. It took a lot of getting used to. I think every sole trader has these moments.

I remember quitting the corner store and starting the NEIS program. It gave me a government allowance to set up a new business. It wasn’t much but the Covid payments helped as-well. I really timed it perfectly as it would have been really challenging without that extra bit of money each week. Especially because oil paints are so. SO. Expensive.
I had to learn to be disciplined at saving and budgeting, you never really know when the next block of money will come in. It is way too easy to get excited and spend it all.

My collectors grew steadily and I now work full time on my art, I couldn’t be happier. I guess I just needed a nudge in the right direction thanks to a global pandemic which helped me pay the bills and put my head down. Yes, money is a challenge for all creatives, but doing what you want is so much sweeter than a regular pay check.

I do want to acknowledge that it is from a point of privilege that I was able to delve into such a precarious industry. I was determined and I worked really hard, but I also always knew my parents were always there as my safety net incase the art world just chewed me up and spat me back out. I am very lucky they are so supportive and they are just stoked to see me doing what I love. I will always be thankful for that.

What has been your favourite moment so far for your work / business?

Gosh, it would have to be my exhibition in February. My eyes were leaking the moment I walked into Van Rensburg in Milton. The amazing women who run the gallery made the space just perfect. I had never seen my work on a clean wall before. It blew my mind. I was meant to share the space with two artists, a ceramicist and a painter, although the other painter had to cancel. Every wall had my work on it and everywhere I looked were red dots. Everything looked so sharp and finished. So, Professional. People were flooding in. Two years of wrestling with covid lockdowns and uncertainty, and a lifetime of imposter syndrome. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of attention and praise I received that afternoon. I just remember my face hurt from smiling.

Who do you admire?

My mum,
For her talent and drive. She has been doing this her whole life and she is the most important resource I have. She just doesn’t let anyone else do her work for her. She ran her business as an artist, a courier, a bookkeeper, a marketing executive, a sales rep, a gallery host, the list goes on. All while having 3 girls demanding spaghetti for dinner and fighting over the tv. If I had a dollar for ever time she wiped me down with turps because I smeared her painting with my ponytail or let my pet bird fly into the studio… it baffles me that she just did it all. What a boss.

What do you wish you could have told your teenage self?

It’s cool to be smart. (I was such a closet nerd)
Oh and … “You’re sister is gay”. I can’t believe how stressful high-school would have been for her. I wish I could have helped.

What sets your soul on fire?

The first few strokes on a large canvas. There is just so much that could happen next. I don’t really plan my works, I usually just work off film photographs or blurry images so figuring out how the work is going to unfold is so thrilling. You can change the whole picture so dramatically with every stroke and it is a feeling of pure freedom knowing that those first marks will dictate the rest of the composition but most likely not even be visible in the finished piece. I think most people experience it in some way. Something fresh and raw, with so much potential. It’s almost a shame to refine it.

Journal Prompts:

What questions or thoughts does this beautiful writing bring up for you?

How are you in awe with nature?

What takes up lots of your brain space?


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