The small featured image above titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45×55 cm, part of my series on the Home page titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, had a gestation of 22 years, an unusually long time frame.
My first trip to Mungo, when I joined a group of friends and camped, was tricky because we set off in December when the temperature reached 40 degrees. By late afternoon it was time, having sheltered in the camping ground, to explore, sketch and take photographs as evening set in and stars emerged. The next day consensus to reach water-filled Menindee lakes meant that exploration at the mysterious and haunting dry Lake Mungo was severely curtailed. A very disappointed artist feeling a little short-changed vowed to return. So I found it difficult to start work, however the result was one oil painting of a sand blown grumpy person standing in front of a night sky.
In 2001 a poet friend and I set out in Late September, intending to camp for a week at least. Some things that I noticed about this arrival were the absence of deeply eroded gullies, a relatively smooth terrain and the vast stretch of sky. The country was in the grip of an extremely severe drought so naturally gullies were now buried under layers of sand. Although we took notes, photographs and sketches, harsh conditions and dust storms sent us scurrying for cover. I felt an existential uneasiness caused by a type of desert exposure, the relentless blue sky and reflected heat from sand, compared for example with the embrace of a colourful gorge.
It was as though we were being watched from below which the painting above hints at without my realisation at the time. The sense that there was no relief from this desiccated but beautiful place was unnerving and once again like this site, creativity also dried. It wasn’t until evening that the desert’s multi-coloured sand mirrored the colours in the sky. Until evening, the sun’s relentless bright light faded subtle colour and the pools of our shadows felt as though they could draw us down into the earth. Full stop for me again.
The image above ‘called out’ one day, it became a touchstone so although I wanted to paint a landscape I painted instead a portrait of my fellow traveller and poet, seen below in a painting titled Dust Borne. At that time we were captivated by the vastness of a night sky’s black backdrop throwing into contrast the milky way, visible clearly only in the desert. It was then that I remembered her poem about Mungo.
This poem written in 2004 came to my rescue . The excerpt below from the poem titled, ” blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech”, from Modewarre: Home Ground, described ideas and feelings we shared at the Mungo site.
and fixity the pilgrim poem begins to turn
cerulean blue it is thinking of island
as metaphor for self and wishes to fly there
later, an artist friend e-writes me her theory
that brain cells re-wire themselves when
new images emerge
some live some die
we decide our techno-umbilical conversations
are a thin layer of water clarifying our mutual
obsession with elements mirroring each other
as in shredded emotions and the luminous
Mungo sands it’s not the sands that make
us feel phoney it’s the gawk factor, tourism
in the season of ‘ going there’ our paltry tents
among the dust storms and thirst so driven
a kangaroo stealths in to drink the dishwater
what the moon sees the moon exposes
among the now eyes the bones the hard facts shifting
shifting old fingers of hunger which cannot settle
and why should they why should they if it is only
to make a future comfortable
‘ the grief that can be trusted is the one
that does not defuse itself in optimism’ –
remember the flocked galahs at the Walls of China
the wrought change as they stilled their garrulous
pinks and greys to silence and faced the setting sun
the sun dyeing the clouds the same tonal flush
the galahs taking their own colour back into their
feathers miracle of re-absorption not even
the night’s consuming indigo can rob them of –
continuity without loss? the final room refuses
to close itself as when in dreams some events
can only be viewed through feathered doors 1.
Creative juices started up-welling when I read the words “cerulean blue”. In Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013 this cool opaque blue of the sky ‘dome’ visually dissolved the outlines, apart from the dust in the air, of the Walls of China. This name refers to the long rows of dunes that characterise this place. Their colour is a shade of pink caused by leaching from red soil. The Westerly wind-blown particles from the red soil of lunettes at the other side of Lake Mungo blow onto the dunes. In the small painting below depiction of a haunting place has been a long time in coming.
1. Sykes, Patricia. 2004. “blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech.” In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29 – 30. Melbourne: Spinifex.