When the pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thoman Woolner set sail from England to seek his fortune in the Australian goldfields of the 1850s, the land he arrived at was both rich and strange. 'Nature and Custom are topsy-turvy in this country, the reverse of England; day and springtime here when night and winter [sic] there', he wrote in his journal. 'Here the trees shed their bark instead of leaves, vegetation stops in mid-summer, and cherries grow their stones outside.' Such fantastic feats of flora and fauna, at least to Woolner's European eyes, were put down to 'antipodean perversity', and it wasn't long before his outsider view began to take hold and bear its own strange fruit in the evolving nineteenth-century Australian landscape painting tradition.
But there is more than one way of seeing the land. And so this Spring 2012 issue of Art &Australia is dedicated to something much more emotional than geographical to a 'sense of place'. Just as the desire persists to view the land from afar, keeping it at a comfortable distance as Woolner and his generation did, so there is the alternative instinct to explore it from the interior - to burrow from within.
Seeing Australia from its centre rather than its periphery is the unique cinematic point-of-view of Warwick Thornton. The European jurors of the Cannes Film Festival recognised this in Thornton's debut feature Samson and Delilah, awarding him the Camera d'Or in 2009. But in the filmmaker's heartbreaking tale of doomed young Aboriginal love, Australians can grasp something even more poignant - the ability of a landscape to reveal a nation's soul.
The Indigenous idea that the land is a book 'out there' for us to read is the driving ethos of Canberra-based artist G. W. Bot though, in her exquisitely worked paintings and prints, the land is rendered through a notation of near-abstract 'glyphs', musically alive with both sorrow and joy.
Sydney-based Jenny Sages is another artist very much 'in country', absorbing and integrating Indigenous influences like a bowerbird from her long treks through Central and Northern Australia. For Mackay-born Danie Mellor, being in country means not only reconnecting with his grandparent's people in the North Queensland rainforests, but evoking the bittersweet emotions of occupation and dispossession in his postcolonial history paintings. For urban-based Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri artist Jonathan Jones, being in country is about creating newly imagined pathways through the landscape - viewing 'corridors' empowered by a shared understanding of history.
Indeed, there is nothing better than history to reconnect us to the richness and strangeness of this place as Angus Trumble's totally delightful and deceptively telling account of the way European artists have employed Australia's flora and fauna for their sometimes eccentric ends - in this case the wombat.
Further burrowing into the national psyche are the urbanised visions of the final two artists in our essay section, Caroline Rothwell and Ian North. As outsiders to this country, hailing originally from England and New Zealand respectively, these artists play less with myth than reality, each having the clear-sighted ability to capture both the horror and banality of our man-made landscape in sculptural and photographic form. And so in this discursive and exploratory fashion we circumnavigate a continent - from above and below ground, inside and out.Vol 50 No 1 Spring 2012
Sense of place
My youth was spent in Alice Springs in the 1980s where my days were mostly given over to wagging school, shanghaiing birds and climbing hills. In a sense the desert landscape, the same mountains and hills painted by Albert Namatjira years before, was my...
Jenny Sages: Deep Memory
Among the famed figurines of the paleolithic era, the miniscule Venus of Brassempouy speaks most seductively across a gap of some 20,000 years. Clean, smooth and grave, with mustard-brown checks carved into her ivory crown, she calls out to be picked up and...
Courses, middens, burls: On the recent work of Jonathan Jones
In April this year I spent a few days around the Barmah State Forest, the very beautiful bushland on the Victorian side of the Murray River not far from Echuca. Walking around these forests with my partner and kids, we followed a trail through the bush that...
G. W. Bot: In the beginning was the word ...
The Canberra region that is home to G. W. BOT is a hilly, grassed landscape with scattered woodland; it is also home to the ubiquitous wombat. A burrowing marsupial mammal, the wombat is close to the earth and the source of the artist’s exhibiting name. First...
Rossetti, Morris and the wombat
In September 1869, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti bought his famous pet wombat from the wild animal dealer Charles Jamrach of Ratcliffe Highway in Stepney, East London. This was the culmination of well over twelve years'...
Good, better, best: the art of Danie Mellor
The Scottish clan that I belong to – or would belong to if it were now anything more than a sentimental myth – was broken In John McPhee's account of life on the small Scottish Island of Colonsay, the narrator describes how seemingly every square inch of...
Caroline Rothwell's irrational logic
‘10 Degrees East’, Caroline Rothwell's 2011 solo exhibition at Sydney’s Grantpirrie Gallery was a tense sculptural installation in which Youngster, a life-size bronze of a child about ten years old, seemed to embody the exhibition’s emotional tone. The...
Truth in restraint: the art of Ian North
Ian North decided to 'come out as an artist in 1984 at the height of his career as a curator. At the time he was in his mid-thirties and working as the founding curator of the photography department at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, with fifteen...
Gertrude Contemporary and Art &Australia Emerging Writers Program
In 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), the cycle of hallucinatory works which catapulted him to international acclaim in the early 1990s, South African artist William Kentridge exploited a thoroughly anachronistic animation technique. Kentridge used a...
Art &Australia / Credit Suisse Private Banking Contemporary Art Award: Alasdair McLuckie
Alasdair McLuckie draws richly from non-western histories of folk, tribal and outsider art to create narratives depicting mythological creation stories or pseudo-human histories that are known for their meticulous design and obsessive execution. Since...
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