The last painting, part of my exhibition titled LANDforms to be shown at 69 Smith Street Gallery, Fitzroy, Melbourne was completed yesterday, apart from a few minor touches, after so many changes.
I began with a frottage on paper taken from the site in 2001 and incorporated it into a composition on canvas in my studio as a way to stay connected to this place.
Coming from a comfortable coastal village to camping in a remote desolation, from air heavy with ions to pink metallic like aluminium shiny air (words failing), from sparking cold ocean to dry creek beds. yellow dunes to burnt sienna plus pink sand dunes, I found it difficult to enter this landscape.
Working through this composition was quite frustrating as I kept changing the format. Part of the reason for this was the way in which I tried to combine a sense of vast distance and mirage, where time and space seem stretched, with a more intimate focus. The close focus on a dune and its formation demanded manipulation of the composition to integrate and combine contrasting time frames into the composition.
The stretched time, just finding an elusive distant horizon, the slow walking pace caused by desert sand and lack of obvious features in which to gauge position and space, forced my eye to search for a way to place myself on the land in order to find and image a viewing space. This mental space had aspects of observation as well as internal imaginings. A heightened alertness, ears casting about for familiar sounds was also a type of invisible safety boundary around myself, quite an unsettling, elemental primal feeling.
The dune looked almost personified in an early rendition, looking out at the viewer through a large eye-shape before I changed it back to horizontal landscape format where the frottage marks partly indicated the way the dune formed. My statement and focus became the parts of dune shaped by water and coloured by red soil but the up close look detracted from the sense of vastness in which the dotted appearance of dunes almost seemed to float in a heat haze.
Back to vertical and then focus on red drift of soil from the nearby hills and a small allusion to precipitation. When I adopted oil washes in many layers that concealed and revealed different parts of the eroded dune I felt that I was getting somewhere. Atmospheric perspective, a flattened sense of space and depictions of gouged and layered sand all came together but also retained their specific qualities.
It has taken me ages from a 2001 frottage on paper to the 2014 and 2015 paintings and collage etchings to come to terms with this haunted place. A palimpsest-like place with a Wabi Sabi type of aesthetic, washed and eroded away, an archaeology that discovered traces of the original inhabitants who lived at least 40,000 years ago. To modern eyes it is hard to see the ‘map’ beneath the surface without samples of ancient tools from archaeological digs and fossilised footprints.
Then there is a memento mori aspect to Mungo when I consider the Mungo time frame and that of a life time. As well as witnessing what a changing climate can do to a place that was once inland seafarers’ home country and now is arid desert country. When I first tried to enter this country, firstly in 1989 and then 2001, the emotion I felt on both occasions is what I call a memento mori moment. Not an awe-filled sensation like the sublime of the Romantics or something too somber like pondering mortality but a freedom, an insignificance and at the same time being very alive.