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Lucy Vader lost everything – except her artwork and dog – in the worst floods to hit Lismore in history.
“I feel like the weather has mocked me … I’ve always loved rain and I paint whatever weather system we’re in at the time,” Ms Vader told 9News.
“As we’ve been through the La Nina systems, which are now back-to-back, I’ve been painting fertile (lands), wet sky … abundant landscapes with potential and possibility.”
Footage of Ms Vader begging to be rescued from her roof was going viral on social media, at the same time her Northern Rivers home was going under on February 28.
“The weather came to kill me and came to kill many others,” Ms Vader told 9News.
“As I was sitting on the roof I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I like painting the weather but, this is a bit much … I don’t like the rain this much.”
She had three priorities as the “absolute Armageddon catastrophe” hit – her Border Collie ‘Dotty’, her exhibition and her own life.
“I’d been working on my art exhibition over the last few months and there was just one possibility of saving one thing in my house and losing everything else … which was to stack my exhibition on a table, that became a boat … and the table floated up to the ceiling,” Ms Vader said.
As waters rose inside her North Lismore home, she farewelled her paintings and beloved dog and fled to the roof, where she spent eight hours waiting to be rescued.
“I knew that I would drown if I didn’t get on the roof,” she said.
“I said goodbye to my dog, goodbye to my paintings and got onto the roof crying and trying to get through to the SES.
“It was a long period of thinking ‘am I going to die today?”
Ms Vader was eventually rescued by an anonymous kayaker, who’d already saved multiple locals from the floodwaters.
“Over the three days that I waited for the flood to go down, I had to just hope that I had an exhibition still, even though I knew I would have lost everything else.”
Upon returning home, the artist discovered her art was the only thing salvageable.
“Untouched paintings, just floating above the water … gave me so much hope and it gave me something to live for, something to not fall into a pit of despair.
“It meant I had a life raft to cling to,” Ms Vader said.
Despite advice from loved ones to abandon the exhibition and focus on rebuilding, she packed her paintings into a friend’s van and travelled to the Southern Highlands, to hang her art in Michael Reid’s gallery in Berrima, as planned.
“She is so focused and professional, and that is partly why she is so successful,” Michael Reid said.
The money Ms Vader makes from selling the paintings will go towards art tools, a new studio and a new start to life.
“I’m starting to accept the loss and starting to think about rebuilding, designing, possibilities, hope and helping others,” she said.
“I hope that (visitors) will feel some of the journey that the paintings have been on … (the paintings) have been on their own journey now, they are a moment of Australia’s most significant environmental catastrophe in modern memory.”
In coming weeks, she will begin preparing for her next exhibitions in Europe and Sydney, which will open later this year.
“I don’t see myself painting floods, but I see the experience as galvanising something quite deep creatively inside me … deep, strong, sometimes sad emotions can funnel into works that make them more powerful, even if they’re an uplifting work,” she said.
Her current exhibition will run until March 27.