Chris de Rosa

A memento in time: artist Chris de Rosa

Life’s mementos are the inspiration behind South Australian artist Chris de Rosa’s work. I interviewed Chris for Fleurieu Living magazine, and she told me about her Italian grandmother, her daily swims at Horseshoe Bay, sea sponges, lace, lino and other influences.

Whether it be a rose transplanted from Italy, or a sponge discovered on a beach on the Fleurieu coast, Chris DeRosa has a fascination with moments in nature and time and the things we do to capture them. Chris gathers mementos, and allows them to sit in her studio at Port Elliot. She contemplates them both in her studio and on her daily ritual swim across Horseshoe Bay before putting them to use.

Until her early thirties, Chris was a fulltime nurse. It was only when she did a postgraduate elective in screen printing that she discovered her true calling. ‘Nigel Murray-Harvey, who had his own practice, was the teacher of that course and he was very inspirational for me. He encouraged me to leave nursing.’ Chris took the plunge and did a Diploma of Art at the North Adelaide School of Art.

Today she nurses one day a week at Flinders, in addition to working one day a week at the bookstore next to her home. She finds this interaction with people a good counterbalance to her solo work in the studio.

It was 12 years ago that she moved to Port Elliot. ‘I had this beautiful house in Underdale, and I thought I would never leave. But then I met Gerry!’ she laughs. ‘He talked me into it. He was a surfer, and felt he had to be close to the beach.’ Chris, herself, had been a swimmer at the pool up in town. She found a little pool at Victor where she could continue her laps. That’s where she met a woman who invited her join a group of people who swam across the Bay regularly in the ocean at Horseshoe Bay.

These days Chris swims daily with the group. ‘Horsehoe Bay is quite murky, and you don’t see much, so it’s often up to your imagination. But on the rare days that it’s clear, it’s quite incredible … an underwater paradise. I also surf with Gerry. But because I’m a crap surfer I spend a lot of time walking the beach, finding these brown dried-up sea sponges and seaweeds and trying to imagine what they may have been like when they were alive in the ocean.’

Chris is currently working on an upcoming exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia – large scale digital prints of these sponges. ‘I’ve had this fascination with the sponge since I found out it’s not actually a plant, but a really simple animal that is quite prehistoric. They have this really incredible cellular structure, and they are water filterers, quite significant to the health of the ocean and sea life. So I find them half crushed, brown, and discarded – and I bring them back here. I leave them for a while… then I photograph them, scan them, draw them. And then I work on them in Photoshop and manipulate them, print them out, perforate them and paint or stain them.’

Another inspiration for Chris’ art is lace. She talks about an island off the coast of Venice called Burano – famous for lace-making. ‘In the museum on the island there is a story about a sailor who is going on a long voyage. He wants to give his loved one a memento before he leaves, so he jumps into the canal and pulls out a sponge or seaweed and gives it to her. She preserves this token of his love by turning it into lace. So my idea is that instead of constructing this memento using stitching, I’m using paper and kind of deconstructing it to make a memento of what this sponge may have been like.

Also, there’s a book by JG Ballard, called The Drowned World, in which he predicts water taking over the earth. So I’m also interested in the melding of land forms and sea forms under water – in light of climate change and rising sea levels.’

Chris is also interested in introduced flora – like prickly pear and olives – and its relationship to the idea of the ‘replanted’ individual. Her aunt was Lucia, of Lucia’s at the Adelaide Central Markets. She was one such transplanted individual. ‘She was a migrant,’ says Chris, ‘a young woman who came to a strange, dry, stony place from a fertile land, and who, with little nurturing, took root and flourished. Apparently she brought back this rose cutting from her garden in Italy smuggled in her bra. She had this big utilitarian garden that was all about practicality and food. But she also had this rose arbour that was her memento of home transposed into Findon. In addition, she had rose-patterned lino in her home, which sparked my interest in using old lino in my work also.’

The previous owner of Chris’s house in Underdale was one Catherine Bosworth – an artist and gardener. ‘She had this large specimen garden. And I found these old garden diaries she had kept over the years. I was interested in her drawings, and old photos, and began using them in my work also.

‘So you see, it’s the mementos of life that capture my interest – whether it be on a home level, or on a sea level.’

This article was first published in Fleurieu Living.