There was never any question that Jo Bertini was going to be an artist. “It’s the family business,” she says. “I was born into it.” Her mother, Anne Ferguson, is an established sculptor and her aunt, Judy Cotton, is an NY-based painter. Also, Jo’s grandfather, and his cousin, (Robert and Olive Cotton), are well-known photographers. “The artistic lineage goes back as far as we can trace our history. I was corrupted at a very young age and was constantly encouraged to paint, draw and be creative and make things,” she says. Painting is something that Jo has always done. She exhibited after school, and during her years of living in Europe. Over the past 10 years, since returning to Australia, Jo has made regular trips into the desert for six to 12 weeks at a time with Australian Desert Expeditions. She has collated her sketches from this time into a book, and is currently exhibiting at Olsen Irwin Gallery.
Which five words best describe you? Compulsively creative, restless, enquiring, artist.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I have always painted and exhibited ever since high school and even when I was living in Europe for 10 years. It is just what I was brought up to do and always came naturally and easily to me. I will always be an artist as I cannot change who I am and it is the activity that comes most instinctively and happily to me. I am constantly seeing new paintings I want to make and inventing new projects that I know I will realise. It is a way of being for me that no matter where I live in the world is a constant.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Trust your instincts. As an artist it is vital that you know that it just comes down to you and the work. Nothing else really matters. It is such a personal and lifetime journey that all sorts of flotsam and jetson will get in your way but you have to push everything else aside and listen only to your own instincts to know the true path.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Being a professional practicing artist who managed sole support of herself as a single mother of two beautiful, now adult children.
What’s been your best decision? Aside from having my children, joining Australian Desert Expeditions as expedition artist nearly 10 years ago.
Who inspires you? So many people are inspirational to me. The scientists and ecologists that I work with, other artists, my students, my family, my partner the explorer Andrew Harper. People can be truly extraordinary and every day there will be something someone says or does or an artwork or piece of writing or music that just fills me with joy and wonder.
What are you passionate about? Art, my family, education, the health of the planet and environment which we live in and depend on, and the desert landscapes, people and remote places of Central Australia.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? The artist Sidney Nolan.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? So many dreams and so many travels and so little time! I really want to be able to realise a complete show of all my expeditions’ archive; the sketchbooks, drawings and gouaches done en situ out on expedition as well as all the paintings that have resulted form all the years of work. It would be wonderful to have a complete retrospective of so much material and so many artworks and see it all curated together in a coherent and informative collective show. It would take an enormous amount of organising and borrowing back of paintings from collections. a logistical, curatorial task well beyond my capacity.
What are you reading? I'm currently reading Outback - the discovery of Australia's interior by Derek Parker. And, of course, Jo Bertini Fieldwork just published by Zabriskie books a collection of my work from the desert.