Local Queensland Artist: Jayde Chandler

Jayde Chandler creates landscapes which are deeply connected to the rolling plains and endless skies that surround her home in Queensland’s central-west.

Queensland Local artist Jayde Chandler

Massive picture windows frame the views of the rolling downs that surround artist Jayde Chandler in her studio on Gregory Park, the cattle and sheep station she and her husband, Ben, run near Barcaldine in Queensland’s central-west.

The Chandlers work on their home property and several adjoining stations with Ben’s brother and parents under the umbrella of a family partnership. Their children, Jack, 11, Charlie, 10, Wally, eight, and Viv, five, enjoy all the freedoms of country life, riding bikes, helping with stockwork and caring for a menagerie of pets including dogs, chickens and the odd poddy lamb. They attend the local school, though next year Jack will leave this idyllic existence when he heads to boarding school in Brisbane.

The region has been graced with a good season and the grass is an unfamiliar shade of green, the livestock are thriving, the roses in the garden are blooming and even the boree trees are flowering for the first time in yonks. Under more common conditions, it would be a much harsher vista, with the paddocks dun-coloured and everything from the sky to the odd carcasse disintegrating in the paddock bleached to pale by the relentless sun.

Artist Profile Jayde Chandler

“This landscape informs all my work,” Jayde says. “Even my abstracts are versions of it. I think it gets under your skin. A lot of my collectors say they relate to my paintings because they connect them to time they’ve spent in this part of the world, no matter where they now live or how briefly they were here.”

Apart from interludes of overseas travel and the year she spent at Marcus Oldham (an agricultural and equine business management college) in Geelong, Victoria, Jayde has always called outback Queensland home. She was born in Longreach and spent her early childhood with her parents and sisters on Cumberland, a celebrated Santa Gertrudis cattle stud midway between Longreach and Barcaldine. (For our story on the garden Jadye’s parents, Jay and Sue Walker have created on that station, turn
to page 102).

Although Jayde and Ben’s parents knew each other, the couple didn’t meet until their first day at Marcus Oldham. “I know, we grew up 100 kilometres apart, but we had to go to Victoria to meet,” Jayde says. “We became firm mates and both went off and did our own thing after graduation until finally we were back in same country and state and reconnected in 2008.” They married in the garden at Ben’s childhood home, Kyneton, in 2010.

Scenic Artwork

The name Walker practically brands you as royalty in this part of the world, as Jayde’s grandfather James (later Sir James) came into the region as a 16-year-old from Ireland via a dairy farm in northern NSW with a swag on his back, a head full of dreams and a love for beef cattle. He was lucky enough to be able to buy a stake in the bush and, always community-minded, went on to serve as the chair of the Longreach Shire Council for 35 years. During his tenure, he was an active supporter of many regional landmarks and improvements including the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, the Qantas Founders Museum, the Longreach School of Distance Education and the Longreach Pastoral College.

“His great passions were the community and beef genetics and, with my dad and uncle, he became one of the first people to import Santas to Australia from King Ranch in America,” Jayde explains. “He may have been a community leader, but to me he was just Papa, and he had a big influence on my life and encouraging my interest in art.”

Jayde Chandler adds that her grandfather was also an enthusiastic patron of the arts and amateur painter, and one of her earliest recollections is of the smell of oils wafting through the homestead. “I think most people thought he was an atrocious artist,” she admits. “He had lots of connections in the art world and one time when he asked [celebrated outback artist] Hugh Sawrey what he thought of his work, Hugh is alleged to have said, ‘Well, Sir James, you have a great canvas and excellent oils.’”

Jayde Chandler Art

So it was with some trepidation that Jayde picked up a paintbrush in 2018. “I studied art briefly at high school but then I went down a science path,” she says. “I’d always like things that are aesthetically pleasing, but I didn’t really do anything about it until our youngest started school and I did an interior design course.”

It soon became apparent that demand for her services was limited as most property owners spend any spare cash they have on fencing and dams, rather than beautifying their homesteads. “That appreciation for art was still lurking in the background, so I thought I might as well have a crack, rather than get to 80 and still be wondering if I’d be any good.”

It was the middle of a prolonged drought and Jayde says she poured all her pent-up frustration and fears for the landscape and the animals into her first canvas. “There was so much emotion in it, I almost wanted to burn it when I was done,” she recalls. “When Ben saw it, he remarked that it was very good and suggested I should enter it in the local show. In the back of my mind, I was terrified that I was another Papa and, frankly, just bad. But then Ben encouraged me to offer it for an auction for drought relief. To my astonishment, I raised $2000 from the sale and that encouraged me to keep going.”

Artist Studio

Jayde then sought the opinion of a local artist whom she respected and, further motivated by her enthusiastic response, went on to enter a few works in the local show. When they all sold on the preview night, she started an Instagram account showcasing her works. The rest, as they say, is history and four short years down the track, Jayde now has a huge following and is represented by galleries in Toowoomba, Wagga Wagga and Melbourne. “I can’t believe it’s happened,” she says. “I actually have so much work that I’ve closed off commissions until next year and I’ve decided to say no to any solo exhibitions and do only group shows for a while. Family is my priority and I don’t want to look back and feel I’ve missed their childhood.”

Nonetheless, Jayde works consistently in the studio in a former overseer’s cottage near the homestead. As soon as the children are on the school bus, she heads across to the studio and, most days, unless she’s needed to help out in the paddock, stays there until they return in the afternoon. In her ”spare” time, she’s trying to coax a garden out of the harsh terrain, and has put her considerable design skills
to obvious use renovating the homestead.

Gregory Park QLD

“It was built in the ‘60s and externally reminded me of a council building,” she says. “But we’ve tried to embrace the positives and focus on the mid-century modern aesthetic at the same time as making it more appropriate for contemporary living.”

Jayde and Ben have laid recycled timber floors in the large open living and kitchen space and added semi-industrial pieces of furniture salvaged from various sheds for cabinets and display units. Ben stripped, sanded and resurfaced two tables from the shearers’ mess hall and now the extended family and neighbours can sit around the long table that stretches the length of the dining area. They have plans to eventually connect the house to the recently installed pool area by adding a deck, which they hope will become the focus for entertaining.

“I’ve learnt that one of the benefits of becoming an artist is the phenomenon of the art swap,” Jayde says.

“So now we have some wonderful works by Australian artists I admire to add to the walls.”
Although Ben and Jayde have recently bought Cumberland and taken over its operation from her parents, Jayde says that for the foreseeable future, Gregory Park is home. “I love being here and so close to all our family,” she says. “I’ve never wanted to live anywhere but out here and I’m just lucky that Ben and I have been able to achieve that dream without having to move away.” ac

Photography by Ken Brass

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