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“Why bother?” I ask myself.
This website is for:
family and friends,
people who own my paintings,
people who still remember me,
people who don’t know me,
For self promotion (reluctantly)
To tell my story
and explain my absence from the art scene for all those years.
To attempt to explain my paintings,
To update what I’m working on (using video?)
To air my beliefs…
When required I have been calling my painting style “Ecological surrealism”
The notion that I have to have a “Style”, or that it has to have a name is simplistic and journalistic.
Every painting creates its own path as I work on it.
One of the motivations that drives me is avoiding repetition, cliches.
Boredom is my best helper. If I am getting bored its probably unoriginal, unimaginative; I have to stretch my ideas to the brink of absurdity, impossibility, otherwise I am squandering my precious time.
Mostly I begin with an idea; sometimes just a shape that will fill or grow inside the canvas. Sometimes (mostly) its the colours and tones of a place, which may exist in my mind, or perhaps out there. These colours usually find shapes for themselves, or even allow me to draw them. I like to have something happening; and lately I like it to be implausible, with prospects of being taken as an allegory or analogy. I would like to create a pseudomyth with the painting. Eventually an image begins to happen and sometimes it wants to be quite realistic. Sometimes the idea prefers to remain ambiguous and vague
Just lately I like to be not too serious.
I like to do fairly big paintings…anything smaller than 3′ by 4′ isn’t worth the effort. About 4′ by 5′ is spacious and about right, but anything up to about 6′ by 9′ is fine.
I spend several months on each painting. Its always hard work. I love to push my imagination, technical skills, endurance and perfectionism to extremes. Anything less would kill me with boredom.
My History; very briefly.
Born 1942 in Temora District hospital. I had a brother aged two, and nine years later along came a sister.
We lived on a farm. My father; the author E.O. Schlunke (Eric) preferred to be seen as a grazier and never overcropped his land. He was probably manic depressive. Had despotic mood swings.
My mother (Olga) came from a rural background, went to Presbyterian Ladies College and passionately loved/hated the farm. (She was bipolar too) She wrote poetry, and was published.
Classical music was always playing in the home: On 78s when I was little, and LPs when I was about 7 or 8.
Eric and Olga hated sport, popular music, commercial radio stations, vulgar people, drunks (!!?!!)
They loved Nature, scintillating conversation, the arts, elegance.
Eric wanted me to go to university, mostly because his father (who died before I was born, and seems to have been a religious zealot who abused the Bible to manipulate/terrorise his kids) wouldn’t let Eric go to Unversity. I started at University of New England and dropped out at the beginning of term 2 because of harassment from certain other students.
I went to stay with Arthur Murch and family, and stayed for about seven years.
Arthur took me on as a kind of apprentice. His wife Ria showed incredible forbearance and kindness.
Arthur got the contract to do the Mural in the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and I was one of his helpers (Along with Helga Lanzendorfer and Julian Halls) Helga and I were allowed to paint bits of it, but poor Julian was not.
I began exhibiting and in 1963 won the Rural Bank Art Prize at the Royal Easter Show. I was 21.
Naturally at that age I became convinced that I knew it all and there began subtly, my decline.
I want to write more about my past, my parents, my mistakes…
OK, here are some of my pickies, with comments…
“George Lambert and Arthur Murch and me”
This was my unhung entry to this years Archibald.
It began as a fantasy wherein George and Arthur are in Big Bush (where I live) working on projects. Arthur had a large block of sandstone, into which he was carving a thirty foot high jumping spider.
George was doing some kind of environmental sculpture; using bush materials.
As the painting proceeded Arthur’s spider became the fibreglass arthropod he had often wished he could do and I had him sandpapering its leg in preparation for gluing on hairs, of which he had a tangled bundle. George’s bark and petal sculpture acquired a praying mantis. As work proceeded Arthur’s spider legs and George’s petals insinuated themselves into the entire big bush background. Arthur’s plaster cast teaching aids (he was a passionate teacher) came along to keep us company.
My reason for doing the painting became clearer as work proceeded. At first it was just the fact that Arthur was an assistant to George, and I was an assistant to Arthur. (This first idea was suggested to me by my dear friend Jeanette.)
Quite soon I began wondering how my life works compared to those of A and G. So I gave myself some insects too, but not very big, but probably live, not sculptures. Eventually I took the look of embarrassment off my face and tried to make it say: “Hey aren’t we having a jolly time being creative…”
“…And The Rainforest Will Return to the Desert…”
This was a finalist in the Essential Energy Art prize, called “Countryscapes” and now terminated.
I wanted to do another painting about the Chewings Range. Maybe I drove past them on the way to Hermansburg Mission way back in 1962. I didn’t stop for any drawings or photos because the person I was traveling with was having a mini nervous breakdown. I used the grey dry corrugated landforms with violet shadows in a previous painting, “Western Macs circa 2084”.
But this time it had to be more than just a view.
(I feel views are dreary and unjustifiable these days for me. Boring too. A good folio of photos or a video pan, or best still, visiting the place and looking at it is the best thing you can do with a view.)
So I put something implausible in the foreground; a clump of rainforest trees, and more rainforest beginning to grow over the corrugated hills. Some of the bluegreyviolet hills were growing a green canopy. The idea excited me, but upon reflection I realised that most people would not understand.
The painting needed some kind of explanation, and that had to go into the title, like a caption. This was one time when I really wanted the painting to be readily understood. Not enigmatic this time.
I could not call it Chewings Range, nor even Western Macs, nor even Western Macdonnell Ranges because virtually nobody knows where they are, and that they are very dry and could not support rainforest.
I don’t often make concessions for people’s ignorance, but I had to change the wording to “Desert”, and then it sounded biblical, (Revelations) so I prefixed the “…And” and set it in the future.
I enjoyed creating a kind of Mosque dome with bright lights in the big fig tree; and a storm coming across the rainforest. Very Romantic. It was a very difficult painting, but not for a minute unenjoyable. I love extremely hard work.
“An Eiffel Tower in Big Bush”
Juxtaposing preposterous ideas.
Its one of the ingredients of surrealism.
The ideas have to be very personal for me to generate any enthusiasm. We had recently been to Paris. Big Bush is where I live.
The tower seemed to fit best upside down. Most of the time on this painting was intuitive frigging around. Not much intellect in this one. It was fun and not terribly difficult. I don’t care if people can see the Eiffel tower or not. It looks intriguing, and thats all I wanted.
Near Port Macquarie is a little patch of rainforest that runs down to the beach, called Sea Acres. There are many palm trees that have shed their fronds and they get caught up in the trees below, looking like sculptures. And there you have it. Once I had the concept that some or all of what I am depicting here is sculptures placed in a garden setting the thing galloped away on a white stallion… Shortly the earth and sky became part of the sculpture. By then I was not depicting an imaginary scene, but dragging rough ideas from my frenetic brain. I want to do more of these. I love to gallop away on the white stallion of extremes.
Shiptons Flat again.
We went back to Shiptons Flat last October.
Shiptons Flat is just south of Cooktown. An exquisite place.
Tucked up against Mt Finnigan,
and intermeandered by the sprightly Parrot Creek,
after it tumbles down from Finnigan.
When I was much younger I spent a bit of time in North Qld particularly at Shiptons Flat.
I was doing art works as usual but also making a 16mm film, very low budget; about Tropical Rainforest.
We made friends with the Roberts family at Shiptons Flat during these visits.
The last visit was in 1989 when my kiddies were quite young.
With Charlie Roberts we climbed almost to the top of Black Mountain… and also up Mt Finnigan. Charlie also took us for a walk up Jubilee Creek.
Little James at about 3 found lots of hanging vines to swing upon.
Eva must have been 9, and Anna 11.
We all swam in a big pool on the Annan River near our camping spot. Later we were told that Saltwater Crocodiles had been seen there. Ho Hum.
This latest visit, last October was with Jeanette, my darling lady friend.
It was lovely to meet up again with the Roberts family, some of whom are still there: Lewis and his wife Edith, and brother Charlie.
They are still living an idyllic lifestyle, in one of the loveliest locations on earth; with minimal consumerism.
Lewis is a leading botanical artist, currently working on a volume of all the local orchids.
He and Charlie are much respected naturalists; world authorities on North Queensland Flora/fauna.
I was greatly excited to see that the “Red Scrub” (actually an area of lovely tropical rainforest growing on rich red basalt soil) was still there; and the road going through one edge of it, which I call the “Red Scrub Road”.
And here are the first of the paintings (all oils/canvas):
Mt Finnigan and Guinea paddock.
36” x 36”
Mt Finnigan is a high mountain with cloud forest atop. I’ve climbed to the top a few times. Its very close to heaven: whatever, wherever, whenever that is.
I have tilted the Guinea grass paddock somewhat, for some esoteric effect. Dry season. Guinea grass absent.
Red Scrub Road 1: Cauliflorous Figs.
48” x 36”
Lovely to be back. First impression.
Red Scrub Road 2: Emergents
70” x 48” (That’s pretty big.)
I tried to make the foreground squeeze the emergents up into the clouds.
Red Scrub Road 3: Cripta
70” x 48” (Yes yes, big too!)
I keep seeing Gaudi’s Cripta Colonia over-arching the road in this one.
And a few jobs from Cape Tribulation, which we visited on the same trip:
Creekside Architecture; study
I left this one in a shabby unfinished state. Will do a bigger one one day. Maybe it will look like ruins overgrown.
Cape Trib creek
70”x48” (Big again; what a busy time for me!)
Down the centre of the painting the components are smaller, lighter, brighter and more contrasty. To the left and right; progressively larger, darker components; less contrast. I was listening to Ravel’s excruciating “Gaspard de la Nuit” while doing this one. Infinite refinement and invention is possible.
Oliver Creek downpour
Pastel. 29” x 21.75”
Lovely to get back to see Oliver Creek again. And show my darling Jeanette, who loved it: (as well as Cape Tribulation, and Cooktown, and Shiptons Flat and the Bloomfield Track!?)
Mt Sorrow: Aunty Reta’s Sculpture Memorial to Eric; my dad
My dad suicided at 54. Reta was his older sister. She said she never quite recovered from his death.
In my imagination I have made Aunty Reta a sculptor who specialises in outdoor installations. Looks like she was using glazed terracotta here for Eric’s portrait and the birdy things.
See Aunty Reta’s Sculptures on the Pinnacle. Click on November 2012 on the right here >>
Mt Sorrow Ridge: Impermanence
48” X 36”
Impermanence, interdependence: from here to the outermost reaches of infinity. Without a break in the continuity.
Back to the Centre.
So we did another trip to Central Australia in September/October 2017. This time we took in Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). I did a couple of helicopter ascents (and descents; decently graceful).
This temptation to do paintings “of” a view can be quite seductive when one finds oneself addressing remarkable natural forms.
I have to keep reminding myself that I am looking for a twist or a witty quirk at least, if not a message, rather than mere clever rendition of objects seen. There is more to art than just craft.
I like to sermonise blatantly, discretely, sneakily. I need to be challenged, perplexed, amused. Any irrelevant irreverent analogy or myth that may arise is played with.
Boredom must be avoided.
I must not waste my life and talents serving mammon; rather I must preach to the humans the need to abandon greed and preserve our planet. The only way I can see to do this is through my art.
I have managed to keep at my art pretty well all my life, which has involved some hardship and tenacity. (And tolerance and forgiveness from my family!)
However I must confess that I find art itself a bit of a wank; not all that serious…
But better than working for someone else, (damaging the planet);
Better than taking oneself and one’s art Terribly Seriously;
Better than being a careerist con artist or artsausage machine…
but I digress…
Certain facts sometimes confront me: eg that I am not very good at drawing certain things.
Rocks is one such. I am enjoying teaching myself how to make rocks interesting. Textures on a range of scales..from sugar sized granules to bus size blocks, to mountains. And the cracks, crevasses, canyons in between. Making paint emulate, mimic or evoke these new sensations is an adventure… then there is the game of insinuating the cheeky ideas; the message.
Whilst playing with the juxtaposed colours and textures of rocks I even descended to using that horrid instrument of evil vulgarity: the palette knife…just a few times.
Oils 91 x 220 cm (3ft X 4ft, as are most of these)
Its almost as if Gaudi made a secret trip to the Western Macs. This is where he did a lot of experimental structures for Park Guell. Many of these are far too large to be accommodated in Barcelona’s expensive Tibidabo hill real estate. So I consider Western Macs to be the Northern Territory extension of Park Guell.
Oils 220 x 76 cm
Not really Mt Sonder any more, just an idea…upward thrust…rock and mist intermingling. Somehow a kind of fairy-tale castle look insinuated itself.
Ian Thompson Memorial: Potoo creating the Amazon forest.
Oils 91 x 220 cm
A creature from my private cosmogony; Potoo, the great ecological architect, sings her greatest idea yet into material form. The painting depicts the moment one hundredth of a second after Potoo exhaled her Big Whoosh. The chaotic elements begin to assemble into the Amazon Forest.
While working on this painting, word came to me that my great friend Ian Thompson had died.
Ian came into my life when I was in my late twenties and had been a friend, helper, fellow conspirator, mischief maker, philosophy debater, boozing companion (until 6th August 1996, when I joined AAs).
And then in my sobriety he was my teacher of good manners, compassion and tolerance that I so much lacked. I am so grateful for the time I had with him.
Botany Clothing Geology.
Oils 91 x 220 cm
We saw this row of hills rising up up up as if to heaven, just after sunset as we were driving to Glen Helen Resort where we stay when in the Western Macs. A few days later we drove back looking for them but they were “gone”.
I had to make do with some drawings of similar hills nearby, but I had to grossly exaggerate the vertical scale.
The resulting painting seems to have started with a contour map; and then an overlay of the surface geology, then another overlay of the flowering plants growing on this sweep of hillocks, or suite of corrugations.
All 55 x 75 cm on Mi tientes paper
Pastels are a good fun way of getting ideas down quickly. Sometimes they are fizzers, but never total failures.
Heavitree Range Right Below.
From a helicopter without a door. Hold tight O safety harness!
Western Mac Caterpillars.
Sediment stratas looping, loping to the horizon.
Gaudi’s Hillside Sculptured Stone Walls.
Perplexing, intriguing masonry: Large areas are traversed with strips of emerging native stratas, but they are just the right height and width to be called “walls”.
Human scale. These are longer than those at Park Guell.
Sometimes I don’t have to elaborate or spruce up natural phenomena. Just a bit of accompaniment.
There are thousands of hectares of these out there.
Capybara Temple Precinct.
From the helicopter the Kata Tjutas look like creatures emerging from the sand. Here we have a couple of capybaras, with temple portals. Etc.
Gaudi’s Walls with Holes for Megafauna; Now Vacant.
The megafauna disappeared shortly after the humans arrived.
Yes yes, Gaudi was a human.
Not a great difficulty, just a chronology-transcending postulation.
Can one do a drawing of Uluru that is not kitschy?
Flaky rock surface, what’s under the flakes?
Trying to see inside; a bit like a Monet Nympheas series.
Uluru is so much older than humanity.
During our one million or so years on this planet humans have done enormous damage:
Exterminated a large percentage of flora/ fauna species in the last few thousand years;
But the universe, including this planet, has been around for billions of years,
and humans, and their gods and superstitions
had fuckall to do with it.
If Uluru blinks, she will have the good and bad fortune to miss completely, the human race:
Its loveliness and horror ;
Its exquisite creativity, its vandalism and self destruction…
And what does the little cloud think?
Uluru sheds quite a lot of water when it rains. Where the water accumulates around the base there are patches of quite decently sized bloodwood (Corymbia opaca) trees. Here we have their shadows from the afternoon sun playing games with the rock textures. Calling to me to coax out a lurking pastel.
One of my favorite Amazon butterflies. Why did I do it, in the middle of a series from the deserts of Central Australia???
And five more paintings
Water and Gravel
Acrylics, then Oils 220 x 91 cm
I began this one in acrylics using some of my old photos.
The aim of the photos was to record information:
Water surface in sunlight and in shade; reflections on the water of sky and trees from the far bank; pebbles at various depths; movement of water (ripples) and distortion of pebbles through rippled water; shadows from trees on this side.
Easy enough to convey this information in acrylics, but a bit dreary.
When I changed to oils suddenly I was dealing with paint; tone, colour and all those esoteric things without names that oil paint does.
The photographic rendition was forgotten.
The main job became animating and making-lovely the frame full of “unmanageable”stuff.
It became a microcosm of the cosmos.
Good old oilses.
Oils 220 x 91 cm
Sometimes the grey box trees in “Big Bush” (where I live) shed a lot of bark exposing fresh yellow bark below. This goes grey pretty quickly, so I decided to do a painting right away of the yellow tree trunk forks.
Them red dots are quandongs, and there are the Spotted Jezebels (butterflies: Delias arganippe) and their larvae again.
Oils 220 x 91 cm
Last time I was at Oliver Creek (north of the Daintree river) was about 27 years ago.
We are planning another trip to Daintree/Cooktown area later this year and I was looking at maps and photos from the last trip. I found the 35mm colour negatives, from the trip, nicely preserved so I digitised and printed off a few enlargements. Enough info here for a painting. Another of those old “I was here! This place exists; its exquisitely beautiful!” jobs.
(Where the humans are supposed to throw up their arms once again and swear to stop destroying nature!) Etc etc.
And that brings me to the Mirkwood Forest jobs.
As a very immature twenty-something-year-old I read the words of a critic of Turner’s time describing Turner’s late paintings as “…paintings of nothing.”
“What a desirable achievement!” I thought.
“If I could make paintings out of nothing I would be, happy, fulfilled, admirable, mystical…”
or whatever immature twenty-something-year-olds most desire.
Subsequently I became familiar with Monet’s Orangerie nympheas (waterlilies) and Rothko and the US abstract Expressionists (the Irascible 18) all making exquisite paintings out of nothing.
I always strove to make abstract shapes and dynamics (“nothing”) underly and structure (discreetly) my picture making.
But the breathtakingness of natural ecosystems still required me to present and preoccupy myself with convincing images (“something”) to the point of trompe l’oeil stuff.
The two have been married most of my career. A stormy marriage but lots of fun.
At thirty something, when I first stood before Velasquez’s painting: “Las Meninas” in the Prado, Madrid; I experienced undescribable feelings.
“So there really is something big and solid in it, this Art thingummy. But What?”
I was thinking.
Velasquez gives a powerful (“unknowable”) push to his lifelike images. Something beyond (but including) the nothing and something.
His play of focus and non-focus has something to do with it…
A while ago I heard Colin Lanceley saying on ABC radio that “Las Meninas” did something similar to him.
Arthur Murch; my teacher and mentor, used to recommend Velasquez and he had prints of his works stuck up on his studio wall, but he never elaborated beyond declaring:
“He did an excellent head.”
When I require a painting of natural things to generate a quivering feeling in the chest cavity (joy, love, humility, awe etc) I think of the “Las Meninas” effect.
This kind of painting can be done with a straightforward rendering of a visible object or view; something I have been shying away from recently.
In April we stayed at Mirkwood Forest on the slopes of Mt Macedon and I did a few drawings and photos.
Lots of grey trunks with glittering leathery gumleaves filling the gaps.
When sunlight rattles through this thicket of diversely textured pillars; patches of luminous colour generate, and I am thinking of Gaudi’s Sagrada Famiglia, as one does.
In the studio back home the greys began to generate semi-transparent spyholes to internal organs and entomological decorations and allusions to extinct megafauna, as they do. And Las Meninas kept coming to mind.
Lots of fun finding a balance. The temptation was to make everything more and more transparent and matrix-like with overwhelming connectedness (“Interdependence co-arising”)
You can stay at Mirkwood Forest Cottages. Just google it.
Mt Macedon 1
Oils 91 x 220 cm
Towards the morning sun. Certain extinct creatures about to become visible.
Mt Macedon 2
Oils 220 x 91 cm
Away from the morning sun. Certain stumps about to become fossils.
As I pen these lines I am working on new jobs in a sense of “thinking about” rather than “looking at” wherein, for example, the horizon is being de-horizontalised, and the landscape curled up a little like in dreams or memory.
Often something I am putting in a painting makes me think of something else; so maybe I try to include both.
Also I am thinking about hills and rocks as painted by certain other artists; to wit:
Goya: the gravity-taunting bluffs and mountains in some of his outdoor works (the like of which I have seen in real life from train journeys in Spain)
Caspar David Freidrich: He was spellbound by nature and mountains; but mostly couldn’t disentangle the Christian church from it. Still plenty like him around today.
Whiteley: the deliciously unhinged other-planetness of his landscapes.
He could make a landform take your breath away. His infinitely variable scale (from mountainsides to ant’s livers), compelling focus, extra-dimensional dynamics…
G.W. Lambert: The virtuoso brushwork and mental control of his plein air war paintings done in the Middle East, and the idyllic landscapes in which young Australian men are being killed during the landing at the Nek, Gallipoli. He got a buzz out of the trees making dots on distant hillsides.
Cezanne: the grumpy fumbling, groping and caressing after his “petit sensation”. (Not the simplistic, peurile “cube, sphere & cone” that artwriters waffle about.)
I keep thinking of Mt Sainte Victoire (also seen from a bus.)
My Mt Sonder makes me think of Mt Sainte Victoire, except my stuff is pre-human.
Gruner: Like Cezanne he lived on the buzz he got from perceiving and delineating the patches of colour and form in his landscapes. Also the taking-away-of-breath that a delicious expanse of volume gave him (and us). He once declared that earth anatomy was all that interested him (after an aeroplane flight)
Heavitree Range Unfurls
36” x 48” Oils on canvas
A range within the Western Macs. One ridge was in cloud shadow when I beheld it; behind it the more distant Mt Giles is in sunlight. I rolled up the ends just a little; and I enjoyed dehorizontalizing the horizon. I felt Gruner’s gaze upon me a few times.
Mt Sonder Low Cloud
36”x48” Oils on canvas
On a windy morning with low cloud I did a drawing with the foreground trodia (spinifex) doing etherial swirls; Across the centre of the painting the peaks are in deep shadow but very solid volumes; then the rising cloud takes over again, swirling along the top of the view. Back in the studio, making a painting out of this idea, the spinifex, hills, clouds are becoming zoologique.
This is one of those paintings that doesn’t want me to finish it. (“…don’t finish me off!”)
It seems to live only while I am still working on it.
Old Slunk revisits the Western Macs
36”x48” Oils on canvas.
When all’s said and done I’m really pointing out that certain ridges in the Western Macs look a bit like my old knuckles.
And yes, I am doing a self portrait of my hands…
36″x24″ Oils on canvas
The human race needs a kick up the bum.
We are enslaved to consumerist capitalism. Obsessed with self, wants and don’t wants, games, entertainment, material self enrichment. And those who don’t have it, want it.
Anthropocentric arrogance rampant.
The superstition and gullibility of the human race is quite astounding; and it allows manipulation by the more cunning of us; hence the booming consumerist capitalism and our enslavement.
A frightening/depressingly large percentage of people lack the mental capability or stamina or willingness to comprehend even the simplest concept, eg:
How is human-generated CO2 gas affecting the climate?
What does alcohol do to the brain? The family? The community?
Isn’t continual economic and population growth suicidally reckless on a finite, overpopulated, depleted planet?
The education system which is supposed to safeguard us against ignorance, superstition and manipulation, is delivering largely more superstition, make-believe and manipulation.
It seems the only goals worth striving for at school are in sport (which is make believe), and neo-liberal endless accumulation of wealth (which is unsustainable and immoral).
Indeed a large percentage of what people aspire to, and hold up as worthy goals is pure make believe.
Much of the work done in the “work force” is also make believe. Fake productivity. Not to mention environmentally damaging.
So effective is our brainwashing into consumerism; we consider it our right to waste resources in order to appear wealthy and successful.
To be required to conserve resources and control population would be considered an assault on our rights, and an injustice.
Regulations and codes have been put in place (pressure from lobbyists and parasitic industries) to ensure that the public consume wastefully in the name of standards and safety.
We are intimidated by academics, statespersons, religions and even some scientists into not regarding population and economic growth as a threat to the planet and all us creatures who live here.
The sector of the community that realises that the planet and its resources are finite and running out, seems to have no connection with the sector that lives by the superstition of economic growth.
But worst of all, we are encouraged to tell lies. Success comes only to those who tell lies.
Modern society believes nature and the rest of the universe (ie EVERYTHING except humans) is a free resource to be exploited by humans, but otherwise only of entertainment value. Any lingering connection with “nature” is via tv documentaries; but otherwise nature is “out there”, not really part of reality, uncivilised and unhygenic.
Domestic animals; livestock, agricultural plants and (to a lesser extent) garden plants are human artefacts, and false nature.
I offer this painting as a yardstick against which to measure reality:
The first hurdle is the here-and-now trap. Humans have been around for a very brief time. About a million years. Insects for example, have been around many hundreds of millions of years; likewise birds, trees etc… They have been “getting it right” and surviving for hundreds of millions of years. This “knowledge” incorporated in their DNA is worthy of respect and veneration. The natural systems that keep the planet working depend on lots of living creatures, (even in human’s insides!)
Its soil, air, water need trillions of healthy little and big creatures to keep the system working.
And its not all just for us humans.
We are part of it willy nilly. We are the johnny-come-latelys.
Indeed if this information were compiled into some ancient holy book, it could be the basis for a religion with ceremonies, rituals, dancing and singing and the repentence and forgiveness for our sins against the environment.
But being based on fact, this religion could be a cause for goodness and wisdom and compassion, instead of exploitative mischief and nonsensical superstition. But I digress…
In this painting we have a vertical stratum of rock, laid down as horizontal mud sediments on the bottom of a primordial sea hundreds of millions of years ago, compressed and incredibly transformed into rock, then (very slowly) flipped 90 degrees onto its edge, then the surrounding stratae, slightly softer than the central ridge, eroded away, and this ridge is how it looks at this moment.
This took hundreds of millions of years. And during this time Australia moved across the equator, visited the south pole, and more…
During all this time millions of creatures evolved and populated the planet. Some of their dead bodies settled in the mud and became fossils in the rocks here.
And during 99.9999% of this time there were NO HUMANS!
Gaze upon it, dear humans, and try to find some humility…
When I was in my early twenties I drove past the Western Macdonnell Ranges (“Western Macs”- west of Alice Springs) on my way to Hermannsburg Mission. I gave a few art classes there and returned to Sydney. I was intending to spend a few days on the return trip, doing drawings and paintings of the ranges near the road, but the bloke I was traveling with was in a great hurry to get back to Sydney… something to do with the flies as I remember, so I thought; never mind, I would come back later…
Back in those days I was quite happy to “Do a painting of….” That is to say, show what a certain view looks like. The trick lay in the way I painted it.
Now in my mid seventies I need to do more with a painting. For a start the view need not exist; neither geographically, nor in memory. Nor need it be a view; not “out there” anyway.
But when I finally got back to the Western Macs a few months ago I found the scenery to be quite astounding enough for “doing a painting of…” At first anyway.
Actually the first task is to learn how to draw and paint hills and rocks. To some extent these early ones are exercises; and I’m wondering what to do with horizons, which are so insistent in the desert.
Maybe few tweaks…I cannot control my urge to tweak, and if a megafauna seems to become visible; well, I am not one to stand in its way…but the first four paintings I have done are more or less my reactions to the geology, botany and geometry of these strange protruberances from the desert plains. No need at this stage to insinuate any further issues. Unless…
Wattle and Corrugations
October in the Western Macs after a damp winter and wildflowers blooming.
A certain species of wattle played its yellow note in a minor chord of other yellows…ochres, oranges, siennas, pale olives.
While the left hand was playing umbers, violets, dark olives…
And those corrugations going on for miles and miles reverberating through the whole countryside.
All of this dotted with spinifex clumps and blooming bushes. Not of this planet.
Mt Sonder Perentie
Geology. The layers of sediment from the bottom of a sea millions of years ago; compressed into rocks and pushed up …
Drawing hills and rocks. How to make the top look like I’m looking up, and the bottom looking down. How to make the horizon infinite, definite and illusory (all of which it is). How to give the hills and rocks volume and weight; and their relentless, slow dynamics, and the underlying anatomy of the geological skeleton and muscles which need to express feelings and emotions and memories: Thinking of Michelangelo.
How to manipulate paint to create the illusion of rocky texture. How to make rocks look amazing, or at least undreary.
Can one make a painting that recreates the feeling of standing out in the desert beholding this range of hills?, or does one insinuate more (or less) into it?
So I had a lot of stuff on my mind with this job.
And the gigantic goanna that seems to be sunning itself…
Geology…Stratas flipped on edge, eroding unevenly. Waves of rock walls to the horizon in both directions. And billions (not millions) of spinifex tussocks. I found myself (as always) thinking about the landscape as it was in prehuman times.
Wattle and Blue Daubs
I love the dots of mulga and other shrubs on distant hillsides, They are not haphazard. They actually draw the volume of the hill.
Certain stratas on the hill slopes are composed of rocks that make soils that are more compatible to stands of mulga, and at a distance they take on a range of blues, violets…in waves.
Prehuman megafauna appear spontaneously in these landscapes.
“Je n’aime pas La Chasse” Self portrait as old Chardin
Did Chardin really feel sorry for the dead creatures he brought into his studio to paint in his still lifes? (as certain Art writers suggest)
Or were they just his dinner that night (he didn’t have a fridge).
I feel disturbed that many European countries still allow people to go out and shoot wild creatures.
This cannot be civilised. Yet they even call it their ‘culture’!
How many other attrocities and ludicrousities can we think of that are perpetuated in the name of culture?
If I invited Chardin to Big Bush would he go out and shoot creatures?
I took a pastel Chardin did of himself in his old age and put my eye, and my hand into it.
And posed a few questions.
No Galahs, Wood ducks, Frogmouths or Echidnas suffered in the making of
Vincent Van Gogh and Antoni Gaudi re-doing Big Bush
One of those paintings that needs a caption to put the viewer on the right page, but having provided that, need I say more?
Nocturne; Night Birds.
Maybe this one began with a book I got about Nightjars, Potoos, Frogmouths and Owlet- Nightjars. Their plumage has such exquisite camo patterns, that my passion for butterfly wing patterns momentarily took second place .
Also Mark Rothko. I became aware of his work when I was in my thirties. It was after I left Sydney, which was then embroiled in “The Field” art… Exciting enough stuff: clever things being done with masking tape and sprayguns: “Hard Edge”
Only to get a magazine (Art International) with a Rothko issue.
This bloke was using blocks of colour with effervescing edges to evoke emotions that I’d never had before. His paintings bypass the intellect and connect with the soul.
Over the years I have begun a few paintings with the intention of presenting full frontal slabs of colour; but inevitably the boundaries get vioated as I (have to) sneak in recognisable things.
Same with this one.
Nonetheless there are pale moonlight colours along the top; warm dry grassy tones along the bottom; and in the middle a dark shadowy “whoosh” going from right to left. Then I mingled nocturnal feathers with Big Bush bark and foliage.
Soutine’s Chapel on the Pinnacle
A few years ago I visited for the first time, the new Musee d’Orsay.
Lots of nice enough things but what knocked me sideways was the room full of Soutines.
There was a refreshing irreverence in his stuff. Knocking houses way out of skew and tumbling them down hillsides; people looking insecure despite their demeanour of self importance, being harassed by red scarfs, towels, cloths. Still lifes of dangerous and scarcely ponderable objects, notably his Skate. Somehow he does this with wit, gentle humour, conviction and sincerity. He seems to be such a nice fun bloke.
Most artwriters perpetuate myths. In Soutine’s case its about his anxiety. Maybe he had the same anxiety that most of us artists have, but the tremors in his paintings are not from his supposed anxiety.
They speak of his vivid perception of the forces of nature. He had to make them visible by taking his subject and giving it a good kick and shake. The cold drizzly wind of so many of his landscapes is the omnipotent mother nature who not only makes everything in the universe function, but observes humans and may indeed punish bad behaviour. Like a certain character in a certain old testament.
Soutine does all this with cheeky good humour.
So I invited him to do something in a chapel on the pinnacle.
Not surprisingly he re-did his skate. The skate has been painted before, by Chardin, Ensor, so its a bit of a challenge to have a go at a skate. My grandchildren Issa and Mariama were happy to pose (briefly) as the two children who Soutine often inserted into his tremulous, shuddering landscapes.
Ploughing the Mallee
I don’t often let my anger get into paintings. I try to be light-hearted about the destruction of so many beautiful things and maybe before too long now; the planet itself, (not to mention the human race) by capitalism and religion.
I’m sure mother nature is pondering some checks and balances, and yes, punishment, for the human race, and before too long she will show her hand; and maybe save some of the planet, and perhaps even a few thousand humans will be spared to enjoy the remaining beauty (if she can find that many non-capitalist, non-religious humans).
So I can be light-hearted.
I got this idea out near Hillston. Out there, there are meagre remnants of the mallee vegetation that once covered the whole area; just along the roadsides, a few metres wide. As we drove along, there was this farmer in his enormous air conditioned tractor pulling a very wide plough. It was dry and windy and he was creating an enormous cloud of dust.
It rose into the air on upward thermals and reminded me of something… ah yes,
The billowing smoke and dust when the twin towers collapsed.
All this was partly visible through the screen of the skerrick of roadside mallee.
Now there’s a painting.
On another trip out Hillston way on a grey day, a tiny hole opened in the clouds above admitting a beam of sunlight. It caught a wattle bush in full bloom. The rest of the landscape was grey dismal mallee remnant, backed by grey degraded manmade “grassland” to the horizon.
I found myself thinking of civilizations that had gone horribly wrong, like Easter Island…
Vermeer Returning Regent Honey-eaters into Big Bush
Back as far as I can remember there were art books which my mother, and maybe my father too, leafed through, showing me great paintings. Also framed reproductions on the walls at “Rosenthal”
One such was Vermeer’s Girl in a Red Hat. There was also the Servant Girl Pouring Milk; and several other girls, all inscrutable and fascinating to a very little boy. And big men like shearers in funny big hats, long coiffured hair and boots; chatting up the girls. And draughtboard floors.
Much later, when I was about 20, Arthur Murch brought home a Phaidon book on Vermeer. Excellent large reproductions in full colour. The book caught me at the precise moment when I was looking for guidance about composing with abstract areas of colour. Vermeer could make any colour sing by juxtaposition. I suddenly realised that a large part of creating/enjoying art was this.
Vermeer used household objects to create patches of colour where he wanted them; and when he wanted to have a fling he could put almost any strong colour and pattern he cared to concoct, and contrive them as tapestries and rugs that were strewn about…
Thereafter Vermeer was often invoked when I pondered objects in my paintings.
Endangered species: I am always looking and listening for Swift Parrots and Regent Honeyeaters in Big Bush. They used to be here, but now only the odd Swifty; no more Regents. There is a program of breeding Regent honeyeaters in captivity and releasing them back into their former habitats. So I invited Vermeer to come to Big Bush and paint Regent Honeyeaters; breathe life into them and release them. He brought some of his girls.
Painting his girls into Big Bush was an eye opener. Seeing how he simplified his tonal areas yet kept absolute control of the modelling. My copies are only awe-stricken notes.
The top righthand corner is full of Big Bush shapes done in Delftware; and Vermeer’s household objects, including a scarcely disguised abstract tapestry; and the Lacemaker’s threads gone crazy, are strewn about Big Bush.
Selphi as St Jerome.
I was always fascinated by Leonardo’s anatomical drawings, especially of the neck and shoulder region.
I was aware of his unfinished St Jerome, which was obviously drawn by him but the paint probably added or retouched by an apprentice, or some such subsequent gaucherie.
Recently I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror with a patch of light catching the neck and shoulder anatomy…rather like the Leonardo St Jerome and I hastened to capture it on my mobile.
And so began this painting.
The multicoloured light must have come from fresh memories of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia on a sunny morning.
I found it more interesting to construe and concoct the sub-cutaneous structure as architectural or engineering rather than actual human sinews and muscles…and why did I spell it Selphi? Well works of art should be more highbrow than snapshots…my mother told me.
(The original is less saturated, more like this):
Its always exciting to have visitors to Big Bush. Sometimes I do a painting with real or imaginary people or objects doing something in Big Bush.
The juxtapostion is just the beginning.
Something always begins to flow or brew, over which I willingly lose control.
Its intriguing how many points of contact happen between seemingly random juxtapositions. Thats like life isn’t it?.
OK, so I was reading a couple of books about ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints after having bought a couple of prints from Julian. Better educate myself a bit.
These delightful young ladies with their discreet, mysterious, genteel vocations (preoccupations? pastimes?) accompanied by attendants and devotees, moving about their floating world with such inscrutable buoyancy… did such creatures really exist? Were they spirits? Did they inhabit bodies?What on earth would it be like to have a few in Big Bush, to talk to and entertain? Would they find something interesting to play with?
Big Bush Wet Winter.
Like the name says, I was trying to recall walking slowly around in Big Bush during steady winter rain.
All objects covered with a film of water which is reflecting the available light from the clouds; a warm and cool grey. And drips hanging off everything, and drops in the air…I dunno, it looks pretty wet to me…
In pursuance of my lifelong preoccupation with butterflies I have accumulated many books and websites on the subject.
Recently I became fascinated with a genus of “swallowtail” butterflies called Bhutanitis. They are to be found (if one is very lucky and well guided,) in Bhutan to Burma, at moderate to high elevations. So I, um, impacted one (or two?) into Big Bush.
(In my imagination that is. I don’t want visits from Customs and Quarantine… nor from Immigration regarding the Ladies from Japan.)
Another “Pinnacle” painting.
Many of my precious childhood memories involve the Pinnacle.
This time I encouraged some recent travel experiences, (another visit to the Alhambra), to mingle with the hilltop memories: Certain butterflies that could be found near the top of the pinnacle, the caves, the upward-looking hilltop ambience, kurrajong trees; (larval foodplant for the Tailed Emperor butterfly)…the excitement of childhood obsessions with butterflies which I still enjoy; and along the ridge; the windows from a high chamber in the Alhambra.
The conglomerate rocks that form the Pinnacle remind me of the ceiling decorations from the Alhambra, but upside down; hanging upwards from the lichened rocks.
Pillars and arches here and there; memories still fresh of Gaudi, and Aunty Reta’s sculptures not forgotten.
Here is my Portrait of Ria Murch.
Widow of Arthur Murch to whom I was a sort of apprentice many years ago.
We had a half day sitting last year when she was 95 years old. She was alert and a bit annoyed because she had written a letter to the Manly Daily and had discovered that it had not been printed.
Frustration and outrage were in the background of her demeanour; but her charming cheeky confrontation games, so familiar to me, soon resumed. She was able to recall events from my time in that household that I had forgotten. She also talked about times long before I came on the scene.
I did some drawings and took about 100 photos.
During that half day Ria mentioned a few times that she was in pain; life was very difficult and she wouldn’t really mind being dead.
This was not depression talk; she was defiant and very tuned in to life; highly aware of injustice greed and cruelty that makes up a large part of humans-on-planet-earth: Yet fully embracing the paradox of the loveliness of people and nature.
So this is what went into the portrait.
There was an unfinished painting of Arthurs on the wall depicting Gosse’s bluff which Arthur was working on last time I saw him; a few years before his death.
(When he was young he visited this meteor impact crater and did several studies of it; which he redid many times in his long life of painting.) He was a bit more obscure and more into metaphor than ever before, that last time I saw him, and pointed out that he wanted to get into a hot air balloon and ascend 1000 feet for a better view.
I remembered this and found several such views on Google images which seemed to match Arthurs wish and I did the 1000-feet-up view of Gosse’s Bluff behind Ria.
Is she merging into the crater, or is she rising out of it?
Ria died earlier this year.
Archibald and Wynne Comps.
Is it possible to say anything intelligent, objective, unbiased?
So I will say nothing, except that I entered the two above paintings and both were rejected.
Here is a portrait of Patrick and Annie Thorne. Both friends from my childhood, and still great friends.
Here is another painting I’ve just finished tentatively entitled Pinnacle Lepidopterous
It is 92 x 122 cm which is 3 feet by 4 feet; (perhaps the most common size used by Turner)
I have done a lot of this painting with small brushes; very fine detail. The Lepidopterous becomes more visible with closer inspection and so I am adding here a few details. Look for fragments of butterflies; or rather butterfly-like patterns.
I spend a lot of my time gazing in wonder at the patterns on butterfly wings. As if there is some code; some magic cypher that reveals the ultimate secret to exquisite design.
I hope that if I indulge in this scrutiny diligently enough I will be able to generate such patterns and designs spontaneously in my paintings.
Is there some important message from butterflies for humans? Probably not; but funny how I seem to assume that there should be; and for the time being will continue searching.
These details below are about life size: like looking at the painting from about half a metre away.
I suppose most paintings have some story or other behind them but mostly the painting is happy to stand alone without any narrative.
But sometimes the raison d’etre and history is an important part of the creative process; and it seems to me that the beholder or owner of the painting may be enriched know how it came to be.
Thus it is with Quandong Time Again.
Every November the quandong trees in Big Bush (where I live) bedeck themselves with bright red fruits. The redness is the edible flesh. Inside is a woody nut. Inside the nut is a kernel (the actual seed) It too is edible.
The outer flesh is meagre, neither sweet nor savoury, and only mildly attractive. Most people can manage to eat at least one; rarely two, though I believe they are very attractive to bush tucker enthusiasts. Like cranberries; they can be made more palatable with sugar.
The kernel is a bit of a surprise. Strongly tastes of oil of wintergreen, and I imagine it is far more nutritious than the outer layer.
We have found several small rocks in Big Bush with a pit on one side the right size to hold a quandong nut while it is cracked with another stone. So it seems our aboriginal previous-tenants did not waste the best bit.
Regarding the quandong tree. It is a root parasite. It grows in the bush harmoniously and innocently but underground it presents us with a moral problem as do all creatures which can be defined as “parasitic”.
But it gets more complex. Its leaves are eaten by caterpillars, and these caterpillars then pupate and emerge a few weeks later as adults: A beautiful butterfly!
This same butterfly may also lay its eggs upon another parasite; mistletoe, and its caterpillars happily gorge themselves on their leaves.
Angels of vengeance in the moral crusade against “parasites”.
(In a further twist in this story of perverted parasites; there is a species of mistletoe that parasitizes the Quandong tree.)
(And incidentally: can all creatures that take their nutrition at the expense of other living things without actually killing them, be called parasites? If not, why not?)
The painting began with an adult butterfly, which is still there on the left. Delias aganippe, Wood White or Spotted Jezebel.
When I was in my early teens I became a butterfly enthusiast and I raised some Wood White butterflies from eggs/ caterpillars.
I remember being a bit concerned/fascinated to see that the red spots on black of the underside of the hindwing looked as if they had gone out of register in the printing process. There is a little crescent of white showing along the top edge of the red. I felt that the red should have covered all the white.
I remembered this, and mused further that the red spots are very much like the quandongs of their larval foodplant.
Indeed if you pick a quandong and hold it up towards but slightly under the sun, you get a gleam along the top edge a bit like the white halo around the red spot on the butterfly’s wing.
So I was playing with this caprice in the painting; waltzing the red spots from the butterflies’ wings with the dangling quandongs amongst the pendulous yellow green leaves of the quandong tree…
Also I was remembering wandering through the bush as a young boy getting fresh quandong leaves to feed my dozen or so Wood White caterpillars; remembering the incredibly dry crackling heat haze of midsummer in the bush, re-living the vivid and intense rapture of discovering and beholding butterflies (and frogs, and geckos too, for that matter) that some children (before television) had, which adults can only try to preserve or revive.
Incidentally; I began the painting before I went to Spain (including Barcelona) for a few weeks; When I returned and finished the painting my head was swimming with Gaudi; who was inspired by forms found in nature. I wonder if it shows in the painting.
Just south of Cooktown; near Mt Finnigan and not far from Cedar Bay. A patch of rich basalt soil with very biodiverse flora/fauna. A mosaic of Tropical Rainforest and wet sclerophyll. A mecca for naturalists, especially birdos.
The soil and climate are so fecund that new leaves on some rainforest trees and shrubs have a glistening ruby-burgundy hue.
We did two trips to Shipton’s Flat, 17 years apart.
First time it was Lyn and me, to make our film about tropical rainforest. (about which there will be more, here, some day)
Second time was a revisit with our small kids.
Both trips yielded lots of paintings.
Herewith a selection from the last trip.
A raucous bird that can always be seen and heard around Parrot Creek, which winds around Shiptons Flat. I love the deep olives and indigos in the water of Parrot Creek. They make me gasp.
A small flycatcher with an erect-able ruff
Another flycatcher. This one with black, white and yellow plumage, and a delicious twittery trill.
Shipton’s Flat Moment
Jubilee Creek Reach
Hey, these are all pretty, um, realistic!
I think I believed back then,(the early’90s) that all I needed to do was paint it as best I could, just as it was, and um, hope it would reach out and perform magic?
Little Forks Birdwing
Finnigan Cloud Forest 2
Mt Finnigan sticks up out of the lowland rainforest and has cloud forest at its peak, complete with its almost permanent cloud, misting and dripping on the moss covered granite boulders, little palms, epiphytes, wind-clipped bonsai-like trees.
One of those “I saw this!” paintings. A flock of topknot pigeons diving from way up on Finnigan and swooping in to perch with an alarming “Whoooosh”