As I travel year after year out to and in to the landscape I have begun to realise that my painterly approach to any sense of place is becoming more and more complex, more and more about the previous occupants and incarnations of a landscape. Wherever I find myself, I see there are layers of history patinaed into every surface and a resonance in that history. As remarked in Bill Gammage's book 'The biggest estate on earth' there is no term among Australia's original inhabitants for the word 'wilderness '. The native peoples the world over even in European countries have long understood the unseen energy in the rich humanitarian and ecological importance behind every corner of our environment.
It has taken me this long to figure out that painting the landscape isn't just about applying techniques and devices to render an observed 'scene'. It is and must be a reflection of the Human Condition.
In any authentic expression through painting there must be an intimacy - time, and an acquired affection for a place. Making many and repeated studies of particular landscapes has led me to study and observe the incredibly natural approach the aboriginal people have to their work.
Having worked with various groups of artists from Moree, the Flinders ranges and the Tanami desert one cannot help but be mesmerised by the sure incessant touch of the tribal brush, the artists who furl themselves onto or near to their work and set to painting without squinting, squaring up or underpainting, laying out dazzling mandalas in paint with the conviction and solemnity of a prayer.
There is an altogether different but no less inspiring intimacy to be learned from farmers, graziers and workers of the landscapes that I visit that is held deep in the faces and stories of those occupants. Every seasonal nuance every inch of rain and the implication behind everything they see carries a meaning which binds my view of the past and present and enables me to see the importance of everything I'm looking at.
This and these encounters perennially inspire my continuing realisation that what we paint is never just a 'look and put' routine, but is an expression of the 'Human condition '. An expression to share and impart the beauty and story of our surroundings, our place in it and of the act itself of painting. The actual process, the physicality the substance and the evidence of the handmade mark is of universal appeal. A language without words.
As ones eye travels through a painting, so too I hope does the mind wander and trace a story somehow long after the artist has left the room. That I think is the essence of visual expression. There is an urgency often an ache to save something or at least make it last a little longer, the clichèd compulsion to paint sunsets and falling down houses. Life and touch is the appeal, whether it be the agricultural or mining landscape scraped and scoured with a dragon skin of industrial geometry and dishevelment, or a place like Gallipoli where thousands of people died and lived and wrote letters and cooked meals and fought on the shore of a country they knew nothing about, there is the quiet landscape with a painterly intrigue at once haunting and beautiful there is the lingering warmth and touch of the human condition.
In almost every picture in this exhibition a story is told or was told to me, from the collective Australian memory held on the escarpments of Gallipoli to the collective amnesia in the fine erased red sand of the Barkintji lands which spread out from the Darling river in western NSW . Being there and walking those grounds where fine fragments of chalky flaking bone sit milk white among the grey-green foliage and red earth, occasionally coming across a nest of stones or charred earth where a camp (a home) had been for generations is a moving and stirring experience, to see the subsequent generations of cattle plough their hooves through the smoothed nardoo stones and white clay widows caps which appear as the eroding winds blow the sands away.
Of course there is much to be said of the learning of a landscape's anatomy, the perfect make up of its geology, vegetation and tone and comes the celebration of the life that endures and lives in the animistic energy that is in any of these places and there the artist’s role is to make the invisible visible.
When we consider any Australian artist worth their salt there is invariably the element of the human experience, a mythology, a story being told or a songline being sung. That is not to say that everything we view is ego-centric, an old Chinese proverb says 'You can point to the moon, but don't mistake your finger for the moon'. Though the very nature, and a nature it is, of making an expression or an impression of our environment is to make a purely individual reflection of a universally understood view. This is most evident in the looking at works produced by any group of artists travelling together. I almost always travel with other artists, never alone, and it is really a wonder to see as many genuine insights and inflections of a place as there are artists.
Every place has its own pace and pulse as every painting has its own tone and character, such is the enduring enchantment with painting.
In a salute to Magritte's ' This is not a pipe ' I may call my next exhibition 'This is not a landscape ' if only to remind myself that painting is not a parody but a dream.