These past few months have presented me with valuable opportunities to challenge everything I know about imagining the landscape. It’s been an awakening that I desperately needed. There are three experiences that happened in a sequence and have made me so excited to get back to my studio to put together a new body of work.
The first encounter was an artist retreat at Currawong with landscape painter Idris Murphy. Idris prompted me to throw out the idea that a horizon line is necessary in describing the transition between land and sky. Modernism gave us so many visual languages. We looked at many artists who have presented their views in ways that challenged traditional western landscape tradition - concentrating mostly on Vincent Van Gogh and a British painter named Alfred Wallis; both of whom played with perspective and bold brush strokes and treated atmosphere as a tangible element in their work.
I have admired Idris’ work since I was a teenager. I lived in a building in Darlinghurst that used to house the King Street Gallery - I remember standing in front of the window where Idris’ work was hanging. I recall feeling the spirit of the earth rumbling in my chest as I stood on that city street looking at those colourful translations of the landscape.
The second encounter was a trip to Brisbane and QAGOMA where I chanced upon a show called Limitless Horizons: A Vertical Perspective. It was such a gift to my churning imagination. The exhibition was an investigation into a high point of view - so that to all the ways of interpreting the landscape - suddenly was added a consideration of the artists position in relation to the landscape. One of the big changes in the way we see the landscape has been introduced to us in the last decade with the more common use of satellite images, google earth and the used of drones. Suddenly our perspective is removed from the ground and taken into the realm of the Gods.
So to the realm of the Gods I went for my third encounter with the magic of landscape. ULURU and KATA-TJUTA in Central Australia. I was expecting beauty but was completely disarmed by the power of that sublime place. I went there thinking about how the indigenous people also paint from a vertical perspective - looking down on the patterns of the earth from above. I’ve been trying to understand the notion of songlines - it reminds me of Plato’s cave allegory in that in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning rather than what appears before our eyes. Travelling along the songlines the aboriginal people sing the landscape into existence bringing it momentarily out of the dreamtime and into their path. I want to understand this better but this is my basic understanding.
Sitting in the red earth surrounded by the expanse of land and sky, the horizon actually did disappear. Low lying clouds appeared to fly in underneath the rocks and the spinifex seemed to float in the air. It had been raining and rainbows popped up everywhere - it is an utterly awe inspiring place.
Now to bring these ways of seeing home. I want to consider the fracturing of the picture plane that was offered to us by the artists of the 20th C… then... there is the ideas around the God’s eye view that was previously the domain of Asian and Indigenous art and now finds its way into contemporary visual rhetoric through technology… and then... the ancient wisdom of ancestors and philosophical reasoning that might bring a landscape into being… SO much to consider as I step back into the studio.