Nicked or not, it's the fruit of freedom
The Sydney Morning Herald

February 24, 2006

Sophie Dunlop has settled on her own style in food, writes Daphne Guinness.

WITH her new cropped hair and sensuous foodie paintings Sophie Dunlop has evolved hugely since her first show in 2000. "My colours are bolder, I am more comfortable," she says, sticking out her tongue. She is 35.

And that's not all. She has come out of the shadow of her famous father, Brian Dunlop. His ideas no longer influence. He wouldn't dream of retouching a canvas when she wasn't looking, as he once did. But then he wouldn't nick fruit from neighbours' trees or flowers from gardens to pretty up a cold picture. No longer two peas from the same pod.

Although, as her pal Sean Moran, the chef of Panaroma, the two-hat Bondi eatery, tells her: "You can't help having his genes, it must be intriguing for him to see what you have taken from them." In her new show, Degustation , at Eva Breuer's gallery in Woollahra, a curtain flapping in Studio Shelves is a possibility. In Quinces Still Life with Pastoral Scene she may have thought: "Dad would have put a boat here; I will."

But holus-bolus fruit-and-veg paraphernalia? Nah. In her first show, he admired an oyster gouache, saying he wouldn't have dared do that. Well, here's a new, much-improved Oysters and Shells . "That would be my first choice for the restaurant," says Moran. "We are on the beach and oysters fit in nicely."

The show's bumf claims viewers can taste and smell the succulent fruit. Moran stops at Still Life with Melons and Birds . "Hmmmmm. I'd love to bury my face into the melons."

The gouache and pastel is taken from a 15th-century Dutch painting by Mignon, says Dunlop. "It was crawling with lizards; I thought I'd change all that and put in snails."

Half of Dunlop's paintings have been sold. Gone are all the biggies, those with wall power. The people who bought Studio Shelves are building their dining room around the painting. Moran: "What a compliment. What's that thing under the teapot, a shell?" Dunlop: "A jelly mould."

Studio Shelf , with jugs and bowls and a view of Dunlop's Gothic studio window, has also gone. "I'd go along with that for the kitchen," says Moran. He is right: oils are hangable where steam heat churns all day. But pastels on paper are verboten.

Dunlop is not a sketcher. She does not take photographs. She acquires her fruit and vegetables ("I buy some, but nick from gardens mostly") and they often go off before she can eat them. "I take what's growing at the moment to get me going. I just put things down, mix them up. I don't agonise over positions, one painting flows into another." Then, pacing herself at one a month, she has 18, enough for a show.

People are popping up in her paintings, too, small and not so perfectly formed. This will change. She is advancing to formal portraiture. "Actually, Dad is teaching me how to do a portrait next month. I've done one of me in the garden; it's not in the show. People don't live with people they don't know on the wall do they?" Squawk from Eva Breuer: "Your father is an exception, with his paintings of Turkish men. People love them."

So Dunlop herself is a work in progress. "I am in conquering mode," she says. Next she will paint the girls at Seymour College, Adelaide, where she is part-time house mistress, and life is rosy. "I get board and keep and time off to travel and paint whenever it suits. They just want us to be happy with our lives, not for the job to take over. One mistress wants to be an astronaut - she is very ambitious."

And is Dunlop? "Of course. I want to do well and be recognised, and if anyone tries to chuck a spanner in the works I'll be pissed off."

Degustation, Sophie Dunlop 's paintings, works on paper and etchings, is at Eva Breuer, Woollahra, from Saturday.