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August 17, 2021

Drawing life with artist Paige Lusk

Adelaide artist Paige Lusk dived into her love of art when her work in hospitality fell away during the pandemic. Now she's sharing her skills through life drawing classes hosted at The Olivia Hotel.

  • Words: Kurtis Eichler
  • Pictures: Johnny von Einem

Paige Lusk remembers it as the best of times.

In March last year, the world was moving towards a global lockdown on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic. Paige was working erratic hospitality hours. There was little time for art. Until the lockdown.


Monthly life drawing classes at The Olivia Hotel
Next event: 7pm Monday, 6 September
$20 entry, walk-ins welcome


Paige went to the art store. She bought paints, brushes and an easel. The easel took pride of place in the bedroom of her small Goodwood house. Paige painted all day. She painted in her head while she was trying to sleep. While she was out walking. She drove herself to do something every single day.

Her work is firmly in the vein of Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville. Crumpled bodies, striking faces and popping colours explode off her canvass. Her lockdown creations range from chefs holding mortadella, sleeping dogs and a series of fist-squashed faces.

“It was my first real escape from my hospitality trap,” Paige remembers. “I had also saved enough by then to restock paints, and I had time. It was the best time.”

The 26-year-old artist is talking to CityMag about her new life drawing classes, which started in May. It’s something Paige, a modest artist consistently surprised at her own success, is humbly proud of. The monthly classes are aptly called ‘Form’.

Paige Lusk in her Kent Town studio


Hutt Street’s cosy Olivia Hotel host the workshops, which have enjoyed steady support. Basic materials are provided and they are now attracting guest artists to lead sessions. As for the models, Paige has had no struggle finding willing participants.

“I’d been doing life drawing since high school, but for me, that was through things like WEA Adult Learning or through the university or more professional or academic environments,” she says.

“I wanted to start a life drawing class that was more easy going. When I lived in Melbourne, they have a lot more life drawing in bars. It’s a sort of social thing in Melbourne and a way of bringing people together.”

The Olivia opened in January. The whimsical bar with old-world charm is owned by Paige’s friend, Simon Schumann. She saw Form as a way to boost the bar’s profile and also provide a cosy spot for amateur artists to draw. The bar is closed when classes are in session.

Simon says the workshops have added a “beautiful community to the culture of the place”.

“Adelaide has got a beautiful eating and dining culture down that end of the city and among the side streets,” he says.

“The life drawing classes allow people to not just have a drink and forget about the world, but escape and make something out of their day that wasn’t there before.”

The Olivia Hotel. This image: Matthew Kroker


Paige lets the models know to move during the sessions. They don’t have to sit in “complete stillness”. When you are drawing from life, you are drawing from life, she says. “Life moves, and that is part of the challenge and that is also part of the fun.”

Amelia Chaplin volunteered to model for Form last month. She says the experience was “really empowering”.

“I’ve always been interested in maybe one day feeling confident enough in my body to do something like this,” she says. “At first I felt fine, but as soon as people started arriving I was like, ‘Oh heck, I actually have to take off my clothes now,’ and I was nervous for a brief moment. But everyone was just so normal about it.”

The Olivia is just the first location for Form. Paige hopes to expand the workshops across other small bars. “I want to keep changing it up, whether it be life drawing workshops or still life classes or a painting class.”

Paige is an Adelaide native. The daughter of an IT expert and an admin worker, she describes her younger self as “not too social”. In the school holidays, if family or friends were visiting, she would be off scribbling with pencils. She did some drawing classes, which cemented her love for art. She did “study a million different things for about six years” upon finishing school but “kept coming back to it”. “I decided that there was nothing else I really wanted to do and stuck with it,” she says.

Paige took art full-time about three months ago. No longer painting in her bedroom, Paige now works out of a cosy Kent Town studio. Demand for commissions are surging. She keeps a toe in the hospitality waters, working a few shifts a week. She also works one-day-a-week for artist and illustrator Billie Justice Thomson, who has become a mentor to Paige.

Billie Justice Thomson in her Gilles Street Studio


“I think accidentally that’s what’s happened,” Billie says, while hard at work in her Gilles Street studio.

“It’s a two-way street. We get to bounce a lot of ideas off each other, are fresh ears for one another and can be delightedly critical.”

Billie, whose own work has been in high demand in the last several years, says Paige has a “really honest approach” to her work.

“I think it has a lot to do with her brain and the way her brain works. Because she has this wildly excitable brain and vividly creative brain that actually manifests in lots of different ways and that makes her quite magnetic,” she says.

“You can sense that in her work, too, and her approach. Her brain is always ticking over and coming up with ideas.

“I think the really great thing about these workshops is there really isn’t anything like that here. It’s really therapeutic and it’s not really about the end result, but it’s about the idea of people coming together and having an intimate experience.

“And Paige is really gentle with everyone.”

The ambition to expand the workshops out to other venues comes from Paige’s obvious and contagious optimism. She’s chasing dreams, unwilling to give into a reality normally destined to crush them. What drives her to keep painting is the belief that art is like a mission.

“It’s this thing I need to keep getting better at. I really enjoy the way it takes me out of my usual mental state and it’s the only thing in the world that does that,” she says.

“I think that almost obsession is enough to make me keep doing it.”

The next Form class is happening at 7pm on Monday, 6 September. There is a $20 door charge and walk-ins are welcome.

Keep up to date on future life drawing classes by following Form on Instagram.

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