Michael Challen was born in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1957. He moved with his family to Perth when he was three years old and was educated at Christian Boys College in Fremantle, before moving on to Scotch College. Michael was the nephew of Perth’s Bishop Challen.
During his early childhood Michael spent his days wandering through bushland exploring the local flora and fauna, often bringing home his many findings. At the age of 12 he had amassed a collection of hundreds of butterflies. After his parents reminded him that he was taking life from nature’s beauties he quickly ended his butterfly collection.
Michael then acquired a new appreciation for living creatures by continuing to collect the caterpillars and chrysalides of indigenous butterflies that he had previously pinned to his collection boards. He fed and housed them until they emerged in springtime. Family and neighbours thoroughly enjoyed the thousands of butterflies that danced their way around the neighbourhood. Unfortunately all the butterflies laid eggs and in time thousands upon thousands of caterpillars feasted upon the well-loved and cultivated gardens of the community. Upon which Michael was ordered by his parents to collect and remove the thousands of caterpillars that had left a barren wasteland what was once a verdant green neighbourhood.
The butterfly experience didn’t dent Michael’s love of nature. When friends would come by to ask him to play, he would hide under his bed until they left and then sneak out with binoculars and bird books to head off and discover life in the bush. This love of nature led Michael to study Zoology and Botany at WA University. After two years Michael realized he would rather be outdoors studying nature than looking through a microscope. Michael then briefly attended the Claremont School of Art and then at the age of 21, his love of boat building took him on a sailing adventure up the WA coast as far up as Indonesia.
Upon returning to Australia Michael began painting full time outdoors influenced by the love of the direct vision of the French Impressionist artists. During this period, Mike spent time living in the Southwest region of Western Australia and the Murchison area gathering inspiration and direction for his paintings. He refined his artistic ability and his ongoing love of the Western Australian landscape was forever formed.
An adventurer by nature, some of the Mike’s experiences in his travels included being shot at and encountering violent bikie gangs. However nothing was as terrifying as spending time with the famous “Malcolm Douglas” in Broome wrestling crocodiles with a stick of bamboo. In seeking other majestic material for landscapes, Michael was challenged with heat stroke, shark attacks, treacherous terrain, and the acceptance of some indigenous elders.
After the loss of several paintings, in particular a large canvas that blew down a cliff into the Swan River, Mike decided to take his painting into a safer studio environment!
In his mid-20’s Mike married and resided in Albany. Michael Challen has two sons. Whilst he later moved to Queensland where he lived for over 20 years, Michael regarded the “West” as his spiritual home and he received strong demand for his art from supportive collectors in Western Australia. In 2008, Michael selected Tiffany Jones Fine Art Gallery at Buderim on the Sunshine Coast to represent his works in Eastern Australia and exhibited regularly with them, including two beautiful solo exhibitions “Spirit of Place” in 2008 and “Nature and Light” in 2009.
Michael’s paintings are timeless and evocative interpretations of the landscape as seen through the eyes of a sensitive artist. They urge the viewer to be still and appreciate the beauty of our natural environment.
Michael painted primarily in oils and was constantly striving for perfection to achieve truth through keen observation. The most influential artist on Michael had been nature itself, but the English landscape artist J.M.W. Turner had always been a consistent influence throughout Michael’s career. Though the influence cannot be seen in Michael’s technique, Turner’s use of light was a constant source of reference.
Although Michael admired many masters from all eras, his technique was self developed outdoors, attempting to capture true colours and natural light within the limitations of oil paints. His technique was based upon keeping the thinnest layers of paint necessary for light to pass easily through the paint layer and reflect back off the white primed canvas so as to keep maximum luminosity and colour saturation. He preferred to reduce glazing or scrumbling in order to retain sharpness and luminosity of the subject.
An example of Michael’s devotion to observing nature was the six years he spent travelling the length and breadth of Australia to paint its vast wilderness and splendour. This led to the creation of 80 beautiful paintings, which was an undeniable tribute to Australia’s beauty as well as a huge physical and emotional challenge. Michael often trekked for days through rugged terrain to reach remote and beautiful places to paint. This beautiful series of paintings was entitled “Land of Light – Australian Landscapes of the Millennium” and depicted landscapes such as the Canning Stock Route, Tasmania’s south-west, the Blue Mountains, the Northern Territory, remote areas in the north-west of Western Australia, Australia’s red centre and world heritage areas in Queensland.
Michael’s works have often been referred to as “soul-scapes” because while his skilful brush technique created an intense realism in his paintings, they are also imbued with a sense of intimacy that reflected the artist’s intense affinity with his subject.
Recalling the difficulty of painting in remote areas, Michael reminisced: “”I would sit in the freezing cold, exhausted, and photograph and paint,” he said. But most importantly, he said, he had to: “just sit … photographs and drawings were just for detail. The most important thing was to get the emotional and spiritual feel of the place”, Michael said. The spirituality of a place was very important to Michael and this essence is ever present in his paintings, where he attempted to reflect his unique portrayal of the aura of a place. Challen’s spiritual confidence is an essential component of his art and he believed “that the image is becoming of lesser importance; it is that which lies between the brush strokes where development and discovery is sought”.
During his career, Michael has exhibited his work widely, including:
1986 Editions Gallery, Perth, WA – mixed exhibition
1986 Goodridge Gallery, Perth, WA – three man exhibition
1986 Prism Gallery, Perth, WA – two man exhibition
1988 Mediterranean Restaurant, Perth, WA – solo exhibition
1991 Gallery 350, Perth, WA – solo exhibition
1994 Burswood Resort, Perth, WA – auction & “Songs of the Possum”
1996 Rafferty’s Gallery, Perth, WA – “Rottnest – An Island for all Seasons”
1996 Rafferty’s Gallery, Perth, WA – solo exhibition
1997 New York Art Expo, New York, United States of America
1997 Grant Thornton, Perth, WA – “Landscapes of Australia”
1997 Mahoney’s Galleries, Melbourne, VIC – solo exhibition
1998 St Hilda’s, Perth – feature artist
1998 Gallery 360 – launch of Limited Edition prints
1998 Sotheby’s, Sydney, NSW – Art in Research
2000 Kings Park, WA – Centenary of Federation – cover artist
2001 Rio Tinto, Kings Park, Perth, Garden Week
2001 Linton & Shaw Gallery, Perth, WA
2001 St John of God Lighthouse Project, Matilda Bay Restaurant, Rottnest Is – “Beacon of Hope”
2002 South bank, Melbourne, Victoria – solo exhibition
2004 Scotch College, Swanbourne – solo exhibition
2004 Challen & Rafferty Gallery -“Dalkeith”, WA – solo exhibition
2004 Westend Festival, Woodside Plaza, Perth, WA – “Land of Light” solo exhibition
2005 Challen & Rafferty Gallery, Subiaco, WA – solo exhibition
2005 Challen & Rafferty Gallery, Subiaco, WA – launch of World Heritage Collection
2006 Stafford Gallery, Perth, WA – mixed exhibition
2007 Stafford Gallery, Perth, WA – mixed exhibition
2007 PH Miller Gallery, Woodbury, Connecticut, USA – mixed exhibition
2008 Tiffany Jones Fine Art Gallery, Buderim, Qld – “Spirit of Place” solo exhibition
2009 Tiffany Jones Fine Art Gallery, Buderim, Qld – “Nature and Light” solo exhibition
Michael also won several art awards, including: the Cockburn Art Award in 1985 & 1986; the William Art Award in 1986; the Melville City Art Award in 1987 & 1991; and the Harvey Art Award in 1991.
Michael’s exquisitely detailed and awe-inspiring paintings are represented in numerous prestigious and corporate collections all over Australia and overseas. In Australia his works are included in notable collections such as: Parliament House in Perth; Holmes a’ Court Collection; Commonwealth Bank, WA; ANZ Bank, WA; Bankwest, WA; Westfarmers; Clough Engineering, the private collection of Mr Brian Burke (former Premier of WA); BHP; Perrot Group and Ranger Mining, WA.
When he wasn’t painting, Michael’s love for surfing provided him relaxation and a good physical workout.
Michael Challen passed away on 4 July 2011. He was preparing for a third solo exhibition at Tiffany Jones Fine Art Gallery and planning to show not only a range of iconic landscape pieces but also some new powerful and emotionally expressive paintings combining figurative and dream like elements.
Michael Challen’s amazingly beautiful paintings are a legacy of not only his incredible and rare talent but also his unique personality. They reflect the sensitivity that Michael had for the spirituality of a place. This undefinable spiritual component provides an emotional magnitude that is ever present in all of Michael’s paintings – they make us want to be still and provoke in us a respect for nature’s awe-inspiring and enduring beauty and dignity.