bush in amber bloom/ a rubble of metal, old tools where something stood/beautiful weeds/ remembered hut / looking up for sky/ the eleven-o’clock horizon/ black water, chevron dazzle/grass-fur pelt/ eel-shaped cloud /hazy hard-edge still-life/the ’falls
It is tempting to say nothing and let the paintings do the work, I’ve done mine. Haiku-like notes make up most of the words in my sketchbooks and journals, but I offer a few pointers to the origin of the images and the route of exposure and invention.
In my 2005 exhibition From the Valley Floor at Watson Place Gallery, the paintings were distilled variants on light and shade, fed by long familiarity with the land in the valley subject to subtle changes of seasonal shadow – that perfect metaphor. I was looking at eye level, primarily to the tree-line where deep-forest laps deceptively soft-edged grass.
The Wonder paintings continue with the same landscape-muse, but now my eyes are drawn up, skyward. Looking up feels instinctive in a valley – although looking down simultaneously is good, one eye on the clouds, one on the snakes. Edges and opposites that fed the paintings From the Valley Floor are now splashed with ragged lace-like borders of sky. The country is complex, tangled, moist or scorched, always a chaotic garden of rise and fall, like a breathing animal. I look for patterns and repetition to simplify and decorate in the same strokes. Like a fiction writer, I can make it all up, adding colours from childhood; at other times the whole place looks sepia.
But I do draw wonder, both in awe and mystery, at the phenomenal visual surprises and ambiguous layers in the valley, or any place rich in translucence. Translating it to canvas is a balancing act between marvel and anxiety, trying to pin down that elusive butterfly: the shaky but essential structure that pulls an image into focus and form. To wonder infers a more intimate sublime, domestic in scale. The artist Shirazeh Houshiary1 claims doubt and uncertainly as the tools of creative imagination, and I recognise it in regard to painting. Wondering and musing are key to the practice.
It seems anachronistic, coming back to the valley to paint, amongst other things. Stamping it into our young boys’ awareness, so they will have its security and obligation – its trees and river to defend and retreat to, is a parallel concern. The valley has been a constant in my life but time spent working, living in and re-visiting Indigenous desert and island communities has added tension and depth to the way I see and think of the landscape of the ‘childhood gaze’. To add to the mix, I now live in the post-Industrial town of Newcastle (NSW) a place that challenges visual enquiry, not to mention environmental concerns, in an entirely different way.
Some Australians are awkward about arcane or spiritual collaborations with or within nature/country/landscape, but as Albert Einstein suggests, it is only a matter of keeping our eyes open:
1/Iranian born artist (who defies boundaries
and identity). See the podcast Without Borders: Home and Away MoMA Think
Modern Lecture series, May 2006