Australian Artist Joy Engelman
Internationally awarded contemporary landscape painter


Engelman's winning work "This Sacred Place" Florence Biennale 2007




In December 2007, Joy Engelman's painting "This Sacred Place, a triptych of panels depicting the western deserts of NSW was awarded fifth place for paintings at the Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Contemporanea in Firenze, Italy.

The Florence Biennale is the largest democratic artist supported biennale in the world with over 2500 artworks from 840 artists from over 170 countries. It is by all accounts an extraordinary event.

The AWARD WINNING ARTWORK featured below consists of a Mixed Media Acrylic Painting of 3 Panels - each 80cm wide x 150 cm high respectively titled "Menindee" "Mungo" & "Willandra"

"I have retained the brilliance of colours that pervade the western deserts as the sun rises over an eastern horizon,
and at the same time, show the blackness that is night in this region."

To purchase a full scale Giclee Reproduction on Canvas
or a 76 cm wide version on art paper Click here




This represents Australia as it is rarely seen. The true nature of our "outback" on inaccessible roads well 'off the beaten track'. Far from being 'empty', this enigmatic, raw and unruly land is strange and irresistible. Wild and untamed, inhospitable and lonely, an untidy landscape that the unwary need to master very quickly.  Man has achieved nothing here but a few marks on this vast and arid landscape.

Sand dunes form arcs like fish bones on the desert and water flows intermittently in the rich red earth. Saltbush is strung like pearls around ancient riverbeds and landforms and floats above mirages on the far horizon. Dried saltpans glisten in the harsh light. Sand ridges stretch like frozen waves. An unhindered and merciless sun drops quickly into a night of deep rich darkness.

Desert areas command up to 90% of Australia and are the oldest exposed landscapes on the earth. These paintings represent my humble and most recent experience of this sacred place as a modern Australian of European origins.

Questo quadro rappresenta un'Australia che raramente è visibile. La vera natura dell' "outback" è in sentieri inaccessibili molto lontani dalle strade più battute. Questo terreno enigmatico, grezzo ed esuberante è strano ed irresistibile, lontano dall'essere vuoto. Selvatico e indomito, inospitale e solitario, un panorama disordinato che l'incauto deve sapere padroneggiare molto velocemente. L'uomo qui non ha raggiunto nulla a parte qualche segno su questo vasto e arido paesaggio.

Le dune di sabbia compongono sul deserto archi a forma di ossa ittiche e l'acqua scorre a intermittenza nella terra ricca e vermiglia. Il saltbush è legato come delle perle attorno ad antichi letti di fiumi e paesaggi e fluttua sopra i miraggi lungo il lontano orizzonte. I saltpans secchi scintillano nella luce penetrante. Le catene di di sabbia si distendono come onde gelate. Un sole senza spietato e che non trova ostacoli si lascia cadere velocemente nella notte di un buio pieno e profondo.

Le aree desertiche dominano fino al 90% del territorio australiano e sono i paesaggi più vecchi della terra. Questi dipinti rappresentano la mia umile e recente esperienza di questo posto sacro, come Australiana moderna di origini Europee.

A Limited Edition print run has been made and is available from the artist at AUD900 plus postage from the artist.


Joy was awarded the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award (5th primo) at the awards ceremony on December 9, 2007. A prestigeous panel of 8 judges made this year's selection. Details can be found at website. For a quick pictorial overview of the Biennale click here!

Joy was chosen from the international art community by the Scientific Committee of the Florence Biennale to exhibit at the 2007 Florence Biennale in Florence, Italy. Participation in this prestigious event is by invitation only. Engelman was selected by an international jury comprised of numerous people from the art world, including members from the National Academy of Art (India), The Museum of Contemporary Art (Brazil), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA).

The Biennale Internazionale dell'Arte Contemporanea invites participating artists from around the world by directly choosing artists mainly through research and the new land of the internet. This challenges other established Biennales with a new and cutting edge approach to art selection and raises more than a few eyebrows, which is after all, what art is about. It is the largest artist supported and democratic exhibition in the world.

The Florence Biennale is the world's most comprehensive exhibition of contemporary art. This exhibition is defined as a wonderful Biennale, with 890 artists from 72 nations participating despite their differences of language and faith, who find a common language in art to communicate their cultural values illustrating Kofi Annan's statement:

"Artists have a special role to play in the global struggle for peace. At their best, artists speak not only to people; they speak for them. Art is a weapon against ignorance and hatred and an agent of public awareness… Art opens new doors for learning, understanding, and peace among people and nations."

The competition committee estimated the last Biennale’s audience to be around 40,000 attendees. Participation in the Biennale is by nomination only and the artists are selected solely on the basis of the merit of their works, with no prejudices as to style, theme or artistic movement.


"The Florence Biennale is an amazing opportunity to exhibit my work on an international scale and be exposed to a network of over 800 artists from over 80 countries. It is a great opportunity for a regionally based artist to extend their knowledge as well as take regional art to the world.

"Despite current low availability of funding in Australia through government arts bodies for projects such as this, my friends, the "real" people, the "grass-roots" of Australia want to be part of the world community. They understand this as a rare opportunity and have given me encouragement and sponsorship to meet this challenge and take my artworks to this great international event. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by good people, great friends and live in the wide open spaces of regional Australia."

Debbie Thornton B.Sc. - Exploration Geologist - Asia Pacific

Phil Salmon of

Jolanta Nejman - Digital Artist

Elizabeth Seaman - Ray White Real Estate (formerly Central West Properties)


I have placed here some of the background research and inspiration for my panels. I will add to this as time allows. I hope you enjoy this material and that it gives you, the viewer, a broader perspective of what I know, have experienced and love about Australia and our waterways. The water pattern over time has shifted across the landscape, leaving behind it dried lake beds and dunes, salt pans and dry riverbeds. In the paintings for the Biennale, I have attempted to bring together the colours of the landscape as I have seen them and incorporate some of my feelings for this wide spacious and ancient landscape of which we expect so much and give back so little.

Willandra World Heritage Region
consists of an ancient series of now mainly dry lakes, Lake Mungo, Lake Leaghur, Willandra Lakes and Menindee Lake. This chain of lakes resulted as the Mulyan Sea of 5 million years ago has progressively receded over time - a fascinating history which is written in this landscape.

The Lake Mungo region lies some 500 kms west of where I live. This photo from Google earth, shows how the Lake Mungo appears from a great height, as if seen by an eagle in flight. Having spent some time wandering around the desert in this region, I like the feeling of being able to fly free as a bird above this landscape and have tried to capture this in the panels. As well, the Menindee Lakes lie within the Murray Darling River system, which is currently drying up with the recent drought. I have shown how rain falls often in 'the wrong place' (according to us anyway) and the current rain that is falling well to the west of the Murray Darling is completely bypassing this over used and abused river system. By scrolling around the Google Earth map, you will be able to see the 3 regions and how they relate to each other on the landscape. This is a desert region with pink, orange and red earths covered with a sprinkling of grey Mulgas (bushes) and blue saltbush.

Lake Mungo:

Lake Mungo(centre panel) is an amazing area of ancient dunes that surrounded an inland sea some 40,000 years ago. It is a sacred site of immense power that contains the remains of fire places and campsites that date back to over 60,000 years ago.

An earlier set of panels that I painted of Lake Mungo, shows a walk thru and up the dunes with the changing of the light and colours of the dunes as the sun sets to the west. This series was painted in a friend's shearing shed used as a temporary studio and so that all the panels coud be laid out together during the painting process. Each Panel is 80 cm x 80 cm making the entire series over 3.2 metres long....."A Walk thru Lake Mungo" - 8 panels

THE ROAD TO FLORENCE: (as written by Joy Engelman after the experience)

During the winter of 2003 (somewhere in July as I am an Australian Artist), I received a large envelope in the mail from the  Scientific Committee of the Florence Biennale inviting me to participate in the 2005 event. The invitation arrived unexpected, unsolicited and at a time when I could not afford to attend. I did however, start to make some inquiries regarding the event.

Initial inquiries led me to understand that I had been selected from my website. This did not surprise me as I had been online since January 1996 and many inquiries had come from overseas in response to the site - the power of the web! There is a committee of some 30 members world wide who look for artists to invite. These members have credentials that allow them to choose artists with a degree of ability and attainment in their chosen field of the arts.

After the initial listing of your name for consideration by the worldwide committee member, your work is submitted to the internal Scientific Committee before final acceptance. This is done before you receive the invitation. So should you receive an invitation, then it is important to remember that you have already passed this process.

Researching the web found a number of varied opinions ranging from rank outright dismay and criticism for the Biennale to glowing reports from other artists. So it is a mixed reaction that occurs across the range of artists invited. Some are appalled at the cost (which can be high especially if you live in Australia) and others accept to include it as part of their own arts marketing costs. Many of the differences of opinion were driven by an artist's own circumstances and level of achievement rather than as objective opinions. Carol Taylor from Canada had quite good advice on her website.

My attention turned to the other Biennales of world acceptance, particularly Venice and Sydney. In the case of the Venice Biennale, inclusion came through a government/commercial committee and the number that can attend is limited. The international arts media had, like the Florence Biennale, a number of varied opinions as to the value of the Venice Biennale including asking whether this biennale had outlived it's usefulness. Similar comments were made about Sydney. Some arts commentators felt that these better recognised biennales had become 'banal' and were exhibiting a sameness from year to year with nothing new.

I could attend the Florence Biennale on my own efforts, had little chance of Venice or Sydney (as it brings artists into Australia) so a decision was made to attend if I ever received the invitation again. And I did! What I did not realise is that once you are invited, you are always included......refreshing really.

The Florence Biennale is the largest democratic artist supported Biennale in the world with over 840 artists from 180 countries. It hangs 2500 artworks for a period of 10 days mainly in the one center. It is part of the United Nations initiative "Dialogue between Nations" and is expressly for the bringing together of artists to unite in peace and share with each other. It is not an Art Fair as the work is not for sale although some artists preferred to put a price on their work and some broke the rules and brought additional works in. This is written clearly in the invitation so any misconception that artists have that the biennale is an arts fair is due to their own lack of understanding. It is not a commercial venture for artists, but a juried art competition with awards. It is an excellent opportunity to promote your work, meet other artists and learn from them. This Biennale is more about providing a venue for artists to learn what is happening word wide in the arts from each other and gain an understanding of each other and build networks in a democratic way.

Another drawcard about Florence is it is the seat of the Renaissance, the home of Leonardo and Michelangelo, the Uffizi and the visual arts. Whilst Venice is the home of theatre, festivals, masked balls and performance art. So as a visual artist, Florence is the jewel in the crown.

I applied to the Australia Council and received a negative response. My application was for a $10,000 grant to assist me (2007 saw the Australian Government grant $2 million to the Venice Biennale and resulted in 3 artists attending). Indeed I was told the AC didn't support the Florence Biennale as it charged artists to attend. This appears to be a contradiction in terms as it costs a great deal more to attend the Venice Biennale and the Australian tax payers subsidise this. So I turned to local business and friends for sponsorship.

The artwork I prepared for the biennale was carefully considered and researched over a period of 6 months and then it took me another 3 months to paint. It was an exciting experience, demanding of self and discipline. I was pleased with the results; a triptych of panels showing the vibrant colours and energies of our western deserts in New South Wales, approx 600 kms west of where I live. The area is currently drying up and is increasingly being abandoned by both man and animal. The work is I feel a political work and acts as a visual warning on global warming. I named it "This Sacred Place" again in an attempt to display the difference between what Europeans call 'sacred' and what some Australians see as 'sacred'.

The artwork was rolled and packed into a canvas bag, and carried to the Biennale to help me with the cost of attending. The whole exercise cost in the vicinity of AUD15000 (EU9000) - that is booth costs, travel etc. The cost of the booth at the event was such a small part of the overall budget that it hardly mattered.

I had absolutely no idea of what I was going to, what Italy was like as I have never been to Europe before in my life. Never traveled alone, don't speak a foreign language. My only other trip was once in 2004 to China. All of my life I have traveled the eastern states of Australia and the Northern Territory as I love the outback. So for me, this was a completely new adventure.

Taking art to Italy comes under all sorts of export/import laws and researching what I could and couldn't do became a nightmare of contradictory and conflicting advice. This is something that every artist attending needs to be fully informed on before sending/taking your artworks. I carried my work with me with all the necessary documentation completed rolled with the canvases. I wasn't required to show them but I was prepared as much as I could be given the nature of the advice. Italian import of art is covered by many different authorities and is very confusing depending on what country you come from. If you live in the EU, then it is no problem at all.

I stayed at the Hotel Scoti right at the heart of Florence and near the Ponte Trinitata. It's a delightful little boutique style hotel with amazing frescoes being restored in the main rooms. It was a delight to stand and watch the artist carefully repairing the ancient delicate and so demanding! This hotel was both affordable and comfortable. I would recommend anyone stay here as the owners are delightful.

I decided to stay in Florence for 4 weeks to include the biennale and allow me to visit the museums and art galleries to gain a good understanding of what Florence was all about. This allowed me to see the Uffizi at leisure, the Pitti Place, amazing and definitely has to be seen, the Archeological Museum and so on. Florence is a visual artists dream city, so beautiful, everywhere is painted gloriously.

The first day of the Biennale I was pleasantly surprised. Having read how dreadful the organisation of the event was, I can say that the welcome I was given, the help and guidance was excellent. I was handed a folder with my name on it. It contained a map of the event with my booth clearly marked, guides to the city, instructions for taxis and chauffeured cars, an event outline, helpful contact numbers. Not anything at all like I had read and gave me confidence in the event.

I went to hang my works and was assisted, everything I needed was there for me to hang with, except for a ladder which I went and found in another area and brought back to my booth. After hanging my work I put the ladder where others could see it to use as well. The artists hanging were happy and cheerful and the mood was inspiring. I started to make friends.
The opening was fabulous with about 1000 people, maybe more or less, it was hard to tell in the excitement. It was there that I met the other Aussies. For us, the fact that our Australian Consul-General, Tim Gauci and  Ambassador, Amanda Vanstone came to the opening was confirmation of the importance of the event overall. Austrade and the Consul-General gave us a cocktail party after the opening where we all met with and talked with Tim and Amanda, which again gave us confidence in the support of our country if not financially then at least in kind. Australia wasn't the only country to have their government officials present. The other countries represented at an official level were Japan, Turkey, Cyprus, England, Colombia and Mexico. Many of these representatives attended the opening and met their country's artists. However, almost all of the government officials from the participating countries formed the Honour Committee which demonstrates the high level of support that this biennale has.

I manned my booth for the 10 days of the biennale although I did leave it from time to time to wander the event and look at many of the artworks there and talk to the other artists. Photos of event. It was after all what I had come for. I met amazing artists, was inspired by so many ways of seeing the world, learnt from looking at so many different techniques, loved the feedback from other artists on my work, made friends from all around the place and talked about art all day, every day. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute even the many quiet ones when nothing was happening.

I attend each lecture and hear people speak from a variety of backgrounds, Hermitage Magazine from Russia speaks about investment art, Gregorio Luke about Tina Modotti, another lectures on the importance of the frame, all command my attention and are of a very high standard. I learn a lot about the 'world of art'.... and so on.

I look at many of the artists CV's that they have brought with them to show around. I note tht the European artists had biennales listed just like Australians listed solo shows. There was a core group that just exhibit solely at biennales. It brought home to me how isolated we are in Australia from the rest the arts, the world really. It also brought about a realisation of how narrow the Australian view of the arts is, how small the arts were back home. These people had access to events that we could only dream about and a market so large and influential. A rich tapestry of people, art and cultures meeting under one roof; an experience that for me brought it all together, a new understanding of what it is to be an artist, a broader world, a bigger universe! This was a truly multi-cultural event.

I met John Weeronga Bartoo, an Australian Aboriginal Artist and his wife Kaye O'Dea. He is quietly spoken and charming. He explains his works to me and the story contained within them. He tells me "When I get homesick, I go and stand near your work!" This is the highest compliment.

My artwork was both peered at, and inspected closely as well as ignored. It was wonderful to watch people as they looked closely, read the statement I had prepared in both English and Italian next to the work, took my brochure and smiled at me, nodded in recognition or ignored me deliberately. The work had to stand on its own merit amongst so many excellent artworks. I sat near someone else's work so that I could assess how people reacted to my work. This had some benefits and some drawbacks. I got to understand firsthand the strength of my work but missed out on speaking with any gallery representatives that may have happened by.

A print run of 500 brochures was just enough for the show but I would advise you to take 1000.

Some of the artists around my booth got very excited and started to tell me I had won an award as he judges kept coming back and having a look at it. Plus it was being photographed a lot! As I couldn't tell one person from another, it would be wise if you are going to take a printout from the web of the judges faces so you can tell them from everyone else.

Finally, a couple of judges stopped to introduce themselves. They were Dominique Edouard Baechler, Professor of Art History and Art Critic, Paris France and Matty Roca, Art Historian and President for the Council of Arts & Culture, Cancun Mexico. Ms Roca explained she spoke little english but she patted my shoulder and said "It is good! So beautiful! I relate to the colours!" Edwouard Baechler said "It is how we say in Italian, a fine example of the universal language of art!" He also asked if it was a fantasy landscape and I replied "No, that is how Australia is near where I live."

The awards presentation was again a great event with over 1000 stuffed into the theatre area of the Spadolini Centre. All the artists clapped for each other and cheered, no matter where you came from. The feeling was electric! I was so amazed when they called out my name as winning 5th place! I ran to the stage to get the medal before they gave it to someone else by mistake.....just kidding! I could have cried. To come all this way and get an award was more than I could imagine. It made the whole effort very worthwhile, more than I expected!

Gregorio Luke, Art Critic, Curator and Expert on Latin-American Art comes on the last day and tells me he had fought hard to get me to me a higher award. He tells me to come again with 5 or 6 panels and I would win. Well who knows, that's another story and another day.

The whole biennale for me was a wonderful experience. It gave me something I have never felt in Australia and possibly never will. There is no exhibition as big or commanding here in this country.

Since returning, the world has opened it's doors to me and I have been offered quite a few opportunities to exhibit and participate in events worldwide; opportunities that would never have been had I not put myself forward and competed at Florence.

Could it be improved? Yes, I feel a financial award would be great incentive to winning artists and help with their expenses. Artists need to be informed clearly at the outset that it is not an art fair and is an exhibition.......why not make a documentary similar to the Tour de France and promote it. There is such a richness and diversity of talent, people, events and outcomes to draw from. It would help promote it to the world as a major arts event.

For each artist it is different and each of you considering Florence needs to consider what it might bring to you. It is a money spinner I am sure for the organisers, but, so what; personally I'm not against anyone making money. If you can't afford to go or you haven't the confidence or ability, then don't be critical of an event you haven't participated in; you only bring yourself down. Instead, focus on what you can achieve and aim for the highest in all you do. If you do go, then it will bring you a rich and rewarding experience.