There is a quiet little art revolution happening in the hills behind Melbourne.

The Central Highlands runs in a belt between Ballarat and Macedon and besides the area’s rich scenery, it is endowed with good soils, lots of rain and a climate that is more European than Australian. In other words, it is cold and seasonal, and it’s this climate that draws the painters, sculptors, designers and the memory makers.

It is a climate of distinct seasons, a visual three-monthly clock that helps regulate artists who can be insular and solitary. It is a landscape of beauty, and beauty is the precursor of all creative endeavours.

The art that is happening in the region, is art by artists. It’s not art by committee or endowments or local councils. It’s artists finding a way for self-expression, in a community where self-expression matters.

The beauty of the Central Highlands is the opportunity to meet the artists and makers, to examine their practice and intentions. It is art with heart and passion. It is a vibrant arts community that is growing, reaching out and looking to engage. It is art that may ask you to work harder to find it, but behind the art is the artist. Reach out, travel off the beaten track a little and find the opportunity to change the way you see the world.

Start your journey at the soon to open Mount Monument, which belongs to renowned architect Nonda Katsalidis. What started out with humble designs to be a vineyard is morphing into a one of the region’s stand out locations to view sculpture in a considered landscape. Nonda, who has been responsible for designing some of Melbourne’s great buildings, along with MONA in Hobart, has now also produced some of his own sculptures. Look for Nonda’s giant sculpture ‘Threshold’ which has an interesting brutal gravitas reminiscent of Sean Scully’s large stone works. You can also view other works by artists such as Tom Borgas and Neil Taylor. Mount Monument is set to open in January and will include a restaurant and cellar door experience. Bookings are essential.

Stonefields, by internationally lauded landscape designer Paul Bangay, is an excellent example of art at play within a garden. Paul has transformed his country residence, located halfway between Daylesford and Kyneton, into one of the region’s great gardens. Paul plays with shape, form and colour in highly complex ways, which delight and surprise. This is his own great masterwork, shaped without restraint and well worth making a time to see when open. The garden is accessible to guests staying at The Farm House (located within the grounds of Stonefields), or via private tours led by Paul himself, that run on select dates throughout the year.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the region’s diverse art offerings is by visiting an artist’s studio. Be sure to plan ahead though, as many studios open by appointment only.

One of the region’s most respected artists, Greg Mallyon is influenced heavily by the landscape and time spent in the indigenous community. His work is textured, layered and draws you to think about the earthy tones of Australia, the fractured fault lines, the clashes of sand, wind and sun over the fragile form. Greg was recently awarded winner of the landscape category of the inaugural 2021 Nation Capital Art Prize for his work ‘Flightpath over the Tanami Desert’. You can visit Greg’s studio in Hepburn Springs (open by appointment).

Just outside Daylesford, Kim Barter’s studio is a must see to understand the process, passion and intensity of an artist at the top of her game. A collector of ephemera, a print maker and painter, seeing Kim’s work in the studio is a must do for any serious art collector.

The region is home to many up and coming artists too. One to watch is Glenlyon based ceramicist and sculptor Minaal Lawn. Her works, rooted in a domestic scale, have a sculptural gravitas that carry a sense of presence and power beyond their size. Minaal’s work has been included in recent group shows at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Daylesford’s Selby Ginn is another interesting sculptor who uses everyday mediums like leather and textiles to produce highly original work. Included in the Venice Biennale, her work is labour intensive with a strong artisan aesthetic.

Set to open in January, after five years in the making, Stonewalls at Musk will showcase my oversized paintings in the region’s largest contemporary gallery. The gallery will also exhibit sculpture, and focus on new and emerging artists. Situated on five acres of botanical gardens, Stonewalls will also offer art inspired boutique accommodation.

About the author

Andrew O’Brien

Andrew O'Brien is one of Australia's most recognisable and successful artists. Known for his massive mural scale works, luminous colour and highly textured surfaces, Andrews is strongly influenced by the Australian landscape. His work has featured on TV programs, movies and appeared in numerous magazines.