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14 November 1940 – 23 April 1997

Daphne Young was a watercolour painter and artist who lived and practiced in the New England region. In the final clearing of her studio earlier this year her family decided to donate many of her works to NEAS in the hope that the proceeds would further support the Gallery in its ventures.

Here is Daphne’s story

Born Daphne Jean Roberts in Young NSW in 1940 she was one of six children and an identical twin. Her father, a Presbyterian minister and strict disciplinarian, introduced Daphne to the music of the great composers and the theatre – a world beyond the country towns in Queensland and NSW where the family lived when she was growing up. Her father was known to paint as a hobby at one stage but his painting tools were taboo to the rest of the family: there were no pencils or paints for the children. There was a professional artist on Daphne’s father’s side though. Her great-uncle, Frederick James Martyn Roberts was an impressionist landscape painter who taught art at the Central Technical College in Brisbane with noted students Lloyd Rees and Daphne Mayo. His painting Evening (Mt Coot-tha from Dutton Park) 1898 is in the Queensland Art Gallery.

Daphne married Graham Bopp when she was just 16 and had three children by the age of 22. Even as a young mother Albert Namatjira landscapes adorned the walls of the family home. While she wasn’t painting herself at this time of her life Daphne was creative in many other ways including sketching illustrations of butterflies and caterpillars and setting up a craft supply shop in Rosalie with three other women.

After living in Melbourne for a stint she relocated to Armidale and it was in there that Daphne made decisions about her own future, enrolling at the University of New England and taking watercolour painting classes with Judith Roberts. While the academic studies were left unfinished, her career as an artist had begun. Daphne realised that painting was what she had always wanted to do, and would do, for the rest of her life. As an artist she assumed the name Daphne Young, which reflected her youthful view and the town where she was born. She also considered reverting to her maiden name, Roberts, so some of her works are signed that way.

Daphne’s creativity, that had been spawned in the domestic domain, was now in the public domain and her works started to come to attention of gallery directors and competition judges. Living in New England Daphne was taken by the natural beauty all around. She initially depicted in watercolours, multi-media and printing the white daisies that grew prolifically by the roadside, then eucalypts, birds and waterways, rural scenes and the effect of drought on the landscape. One of her first prizes was for a scene from the Darling Downs which she painted from childhood memory.

In the 1980s Daphne’s paintings began selling and local and inter-state prizes kept coming in. She became well known across the region, via these prizes, exhibitions, and sales at her home. Many local homes continue to display loved works from this period. Her reputation and contribution are also remembered via the Daphne Young Watercolour Art Prize, run regularly by the Armidale Art Gallery.
But she also suffered setbacks, criticism that her work was too diverse and learning that a self-taught artist could be looked down upon by the art establishment. At one point she took a break from painting to work as a builder’s labourer to renovate the Black Mountain train station. It was at this time that she also bought a train carriage to be lifted onto her property at Black Mountain – signifying her intention to return to her painting with this, her first dedicated studio. 

In the 1980s Daphne moved to Invergowrie, with her partner Wesley Blackert. There she continued to pursue her love of the environment and passion for the Australian landscape as she and Wesley regenerated their beautiful block with thousands of native plants. Living on this block raised her awareness of damaging farming practices and intensified her passion for environmental conservation.  She also drew great inspiration from her travels with Wesley around Australia.

In the early 1990s she stated she was constantly reminded of Gaugin’s words: Work freely and madly – you will make progress. Sooner or later people will recognise your worth. Above all don’t dwell on it. A great sentiment can be rendered immediately. Dream on it and look at the simplest form on which you can express yourself.

Daphne’s exhibition A Country Woman’s Landscape at the New England Art Museum in 1993 was visually confronting and less well received than her earlier more traditional works. This exhibition challenged the traditional image of a country woman, that of a rural lady crocheting woollen squares. Her works stamped crocheted squares born of therapy, over Albert Namatjira eucalyptus landscapes: pieces of the wool were left unravelling, literally and metaphorically, to represent that the preservation of the environment was hanging by a thread. Pulling the Threads on Albert’s Environment One also undid the traditional gendering of craft and art, and uncannily revealed a painter artist beneath a domestic craft creatrix.

In the final few years of her life Daphne taught drawing and painting to children and adults at the New England Art Museum and did indeed work freely and madly, exploring acrylics, print making and oils, always innovating and building her skills and portfolio. Her works became increasingly bold and vibrant as she embraced even more vivid colours.

Daphne actively painted and experimented till just before her very unexpected death in 1997, aged 57. So, her dedicated life as an artist extended over less than 20 years: a very short time to build her natural talent, portfolio and reputation.

After her death, her Invergowrie studio was left untouched until Wesley passed away, 25 years later. Her friends and members of the local art community helped to sort through the studio, discovering ‘new’ works that still took their breath away.

Not all artists emerge in their twenties. Not all potential artists have the tools, the education or exposure to art, or the time and money for it early in their lives. For many women the opportunity to develop as artists only comes after mothering and after paid work. In the community and at art colleges today we see mature women artists switching to art in droves because finally, like Daphne, they can.