Bringing Stories to the Surface with Prudence Coburn: Cover Story

Image source: Photographer Jane Pennant

For us land-walking mammalians, the life of our underwater counterparts is somewhat of a mystery — and for our Winter cover artist, Prudence Coburn, her fascination runs deep. Jodie Cameron discovers the inspiration behind Prudence’s oceanic adventures with a paintbrush…

If you have been lucky enough to witness any sea creature in its natural habitat, you will appreciate their almost prehistoric presence. Our front cover artist, Prudence Coburn, combines her love of surfing and a deep affinity for the ocean to bring their stories to the surface – with a gentle focus on deepening our appreciation for preserving and protecting their magic for generations to come.

Growing up in rural Victoria, frequenting her family’s beach house as a child is where Prudence’s love of marine life and seascapes began.

“I have always loved the ocean, and I have always had a deep love of the arts, so I am naturally drawn to anything creative,” she says. “My family are very loving of the arts too, so I was exposed to this world from an early age; which helped me see it as a viable career path.”

In her final year of high school, Prudence exhibited a sculpture as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) Top Arts exhibition – a highly-esteemed platform for the next generation of innovative artists to showcase their spirited, talented and passionate works.

“Having my sculpture at The Ian Potter Centre at the NGV has been a huge highlight in my career, and recognition that my hard work paid off,” she says.

After graduating from high school, Prudence went on to study a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Sculpture) at Melbourne University’s College of the Arts where she refined her sculpture practice while dabbling in other mediums such as photography, painting and drawing.

“Being able to visualise and sketch to develop my ideas benefited my sculpture practice, and after graduating I took a break from sculpture and really leaned into painting,” Prudence says.

After finishing university and moving to the coastal town of Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road, Prudence learned how to surf and this was a catalyst for her deep dive into painting the captivating sea life that lurked beneath her.

“I fell in love with surfing very quickly – it’s really special being out there with the solace of the ocean, in the waves and connecting with all the elements of sea life,” she says. “It’s been a huge motivation for my work and I often paint after these experiences.”

Fast forward three years and life on the Sunshine Coast is a constant source of inspiration for Prudence, who draws on the natural world around her to create contemporary visual works of art from her home studio in Buderim.

“My paintings are deeply influenced by my surroundings; so after moving to Queensland, I shifted my focus to the spectacular coastlines, plants and animals,” she says. “I have really found my niche in the natural world here and will often see dolphins or spotted eagle rays playing in the shallows while walking my dog along Mudjimba Beach.”

Happy spending time on her own exploring and creating, Prudence finds painting to be quite meditative, and often loses track of time when she becomes focused on a piece.

“These breathtakingly beautiful creatures are also living a meditative, tranquil life in the ocean and we can forget about them because we don’t see them all the time,” she says. “This is why I love painting them – they bring perspective because of the power and intensity they have over us as humans, so painting them is like bringing them to the surface of people’s minds.”

Prudence has a soft spot for whales – you simply cannot erase the first time you see a whale breach in all its magnificent glory and the sheer joy they evoke when witnessing a mother frolick while teaching her young. It’s truly magical, and Prudence has captured their utmost beauty in our cover image My Cup of Tea.

“I love creating versions of advocacy by interweaving a sense of spirit to make them more approachable – it will often lead to conversations about global warming and captivity, to shark nets, with the creatures I paint in vessels. There is that side to sea life and sometimes my art can draw attention to this, but not in an aggressive way.”

Prudence says advocating respect for these creatures is so important because they deserve respect as much as anyone, and despite their power, they still have a place and are keeping the ocean alive.

“When you encounter sea life in their natural surroundings, you feel this instant connection – like you are the only one witnessing them in that moment in time, and there’s something really precious about that,” she says. “We are on land seeing amazing things all the time, but there’s a whole other world down there, and there’s so much we don’t know about it; that vastness can sometimes be intimidating, so I lean into that.”

Largely using acrylics to explore themes of calmness, solitude, depth, collaboration, warmth, beauty, strength and vulnerability, Prudence says a painting is much easier to approach than a living creature, so she creates layers of detail to build contrast and texture that replicate the complexity of these animals.

“Acrylics have my heart; they give so much flexibility to work with and form so many finer details that from afar it’s almost realism, but as you get closer you see not just the intricacies of the layers, but the intricacies of the sea creature and their skin, spots, and unique markings – all the elements of the different brush strokes at play,” she says.

There’s an element of minimalism to Prudence’s artwork – she keeps the background neutral or with minimal landscape so the eye is drawn to the sea creature and not lost.

“A lot of people assume the space around the creature is the water, so by using a spatula, I can create much more contrast, texture and dimension.”

Prudence also likes working with silver and gold aluminium leaf – placing it on the dorsal fins of great white sharks and bull sharks to shine a conscious light on shark finning.

“I called this series Worth their Weight in Gold – sharks need their fins for survival and this gold leaf draws attention to the value of their fins while opening up the conversation about why it’s happening; some people might already have an idea, but if they don’t then its creating a gentle awareness of the issue,” Prudence explains. “Whereas, I use the silver leaf to represent a reflection of water and movement. I like focusing attention on flow; especially with sea creatures because a lot of their movement creates an element of grace and fluidity.”

Like the vastness of the ocean, with its ebbs and flows, art can elevate our thinking to a higher level regardless of age – which is why Prudence has also moved into making art prints.

“I found offering art prints at a lower price has been a valuable way for the younger generation to own art they can appreciate and admire, when they can’t necessarily invest in an original piece.” .

When inspiration strikes, whether she’s in her pyjamas or getting creative after a casual day of work at Stevens Street Gallery in Yandina or Flock Interiors in Pacific Paradise, Prudence is endeared by how welcoming the Sunshine Coast art community has been.

“So many opportunities have come from being part of these artists’ collectives,” she says. “I think a lot of artists would agree when you sell an artwork you’ve spent so much time loving, then hating and then loving again, letting go can be hard – but I am so grateful when someone values my work in the same way I do and appreciates it enough to buy it so they can see it every day of their lives. That’s the biggest compliment I could ever receive.”

About the Author /

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Jodie is a city-turned-country-turned-coastal chick. With a degree in Journalism & PR and a passion for pulling together events with flair. Her 15+ years’ experience is diverse (including launching a macadamia nut farm)! In her spare time, she’s beachside with her two tiny treasures and furry love Staffy x Red Cattle dog, Rudi.

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