In many vineyards across Australia wandering vistors will find rose bushes, planted neatly at the end of row-after-row of low-running grape vines. Pristine punctuation marks in a sea of lush greenery, these decorative details also have a practical function as a barometer for vine disease. If a rose is sick, so too will be the vines.
Rosa Purbrick (herself named after the hardy rose species) has kept watch over vines all her life. Born in Mildura, she grew up in a large Italian family with a heritage steeped in home made vintage. Her father produced his own potent ferment, renowned for its unique 'kick' and designed, no doubt, to 'fine' out his daughters' potential suitors. Rosa remembers picking clustered bunches of grapes and heaping them into old 'diptins'. She and her siblings would weave vine leaves through the perforations to keep themselves entertained on hot summer afternoons when energy levels dropped and heads became hazy with the hum of insects.
Fate came to Rosa in the form of a husband robust enough to withstand her father's home made vintage. She married winemaker Alister Purbrick in 1982 and thus joined the oldest and most revered of Australia's wine legacies – Tahbilk Vineyard beside Victoria's Goulburn River.
As an artist, Rosa's life and work are synchronised with the vineyard's seasonal changes. Her imagery is etched in tune with the shifting moods of the landscape – from its blushed springtime mornings, to its crisp autumnal dusks and silent winter nights. For many years her paintings aimed for naturalism in carefully arranging close detail of foliage and colourful blooms. Many of these lyrical still-life compositions were translated onto wine labels for the property's Dalfarras range of wines – dedicated to Rosa's maiden family name - Dal Farra.
From these early pictorial idylls, Rosa has moved forward to a fresh arena of experimentation, one that links her more intimately with the 'living energy' of the vineyard. She now paints closer to the earth and allows the sun to dazzle her gaze. This submission to a more emotional relationship with her environment has sent her imagery spinning into a dervish of distinct yet related avenues. Pictures leap from one medium to another – from slick oil finish to porous paper texture – as the subject itself refracts and warps between figuration and full abstraction. These divergent strains 'converse' with each other, as if to suggest a debate about the physical qualities of wine and its age-old entaglement with the human 'spirit'.
Anna Clabburn, October 1999