Off Topic: Nick Mitzevich
Off Topic and on the record, as we let South Australian identities talk about whatever they want... as long as it’s not their day job. This month the Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Nick Mitzevich, discusses his Adelaide Hills sanctuary.
"My parents are farmers and my upbringing was very much a rural upbringing and art really didn’t feature in my family upbringing,” Mitzevich, who grew up in the Hunter Valley and moved to Adelaide in 2010 to take up his position with the Art Gallery, begins. “I’m into gardening and growing things, so sustainable farming and sustainable gardening is something that I’m really passionate about. I bought a house in the Adelaide Hills with two acres and I’ve been slowly crafting a garden and I think that if I didn’t have my day job that I’d be a gardener of some type.
“Philosophically, I think, when you grow up on a farm, you learn that your patch of ground is so important to your own livelihood,” Mitzevich (who says the front of his house will feature a traditional hills garden while the back will be native) explains. “My father taught me that you have to respect the land that you have because that’s what’s going to make or break you. Even though my patch of ground doesn’t give me my income, I still think that that kind of philosophy is important. One of the things I’m most passionate about is making sure that if we’re responsible for a patch of ground, that we need to do our best to look after it and nurture it and leave it in a position that’s much more sustainable for the future. I’m so thrilled that living in Adelaide means that I can have a metropolitan job but also that I can live close to the city and have my own patch of ‘ruralness’. Adelaide delights me because it gives me the two worlds that I love most. I love my career but I also love being able to really tap into this sort of lifestyle that I grew up in living on a rural farm and learning how the environment, the climate and the ground that you look after, contributes to your life.”
This means Mitzevich is planning to live in the Adelaide Hills for some time yet.
“I hope so, yes. The gardening project is a long-term initiative and it’s my first season with deciduous trees on the Hills side of the garden, they have just come out, so it’s really exciting to see that. On the other side of the house, where I’ve decided to return it to bush and natures, I’ve got lots of work to do because it has been neglected and the ravages of neglect means that the indigenous species are in decline.”
Mitzevich views his garden as his sanctuary and it is a personal project: “Hopefully my farm upbringing means that I won’t make too many mistakes and I see it as my project. It’s not an aesthetic endeavour. Growing things is something that nurtures me and my life, so getting someone to help me with it would be like cheating.”
Mitzevich’s appreciation of sustainable gardening emanates from his grandmother.
“We were a big traditional Greek Macedonian family and my grandmother lived with us and we grew everything that we ate. My parents slaughtered cows, chickens and pigs for our table and my grandmother grew everything. If she didn’t grow them then one of my aunties did and we had that approach to living and, of course, having a garden that revolved around the seasons was very important. Interestingly, I have three sisters but they never learned how to garden. Being the eldest son it was my job to learn that endeavour and I was my grandmother’s apprentice for many, many years. I learned the craft of growing and nurturing things and looking after them and it was the greatest gift, I think, anyone gave me.
Given all this, why did Mitzevich choose art as a career over gardening?
“Art took me into a magical world. Art was something that was just transfixing and compelling and it transported me to another place. To look at the world through the eyes of really creative artists is really special. I suppose when you find something that you spiritually connect with, and then you can fashion a career in that area, it is very special. I feel very lucky and fortunate to do that. To work with so many people to try and make art more accessible is my lifelong passion.”