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.