This commission happened due to an art lover viewing on line one of my small studies in pastel and charcoal drawn over a digital print taken from one of my larger paintings. The study on paper sizing up often demands some compositional arrangement and more tonal subtlety. Translating a small pastel into oil paint always interesting.
So today I begin.
When I compare collage and mixed media compositions with oil painted compositions sharing the same topic, I become aware of how different media often suit particular topics.
In this case contemporary art about the environment and the forces of nature somehow is suited to the dryness of rice paper as well as handmade paper as they become simulations of the earth’s surface and landforms. The dusty terrain, desiccated rock surfaces, cracked salt-laden and powdery surfaces and dry sand depictions, although semi abstracted, seem so much easier to portray with various collages than with the lush textures and viscosity of oil paint. Impasto especially can look too lush when alluding to Australia’s ancient land.
One solution to attain the powdery delicate but ancient bleached look was when I mixed grated pastel into gesso and then applied liberally on top of gesso ground whether on canvas, paper or wood surface. I usually begin with this technique but am often not quite satisfied with the end result so I will keep on experimenting.
I feel as though this small series has ended for now and oil painting is calling once again back to psychological portraits where oil paint is a sympathetic medium in which to portray subtleties and nuanced tonal values.
At Muddy’s She Shed during the weekend Surf Coast Arts Trail event, the studio, temporarily transformed into a gallery, had a steady stream of viewers on both days. Interested participants created gelatine prints using Anglesea flora. Several items that included Maggi Jean’s ceramics, small sculptures – (a small elephant herd) and artists’ books – ( Anglesea flora and seaweeds) found good homes as well as Evie Wood’s poetry books, cards, watercolours and an acrylic still life titled Pink Lady Interior, 2016.
Several of my digital prints were also purchased. The oldest had been part of my PhD exegesis, titled Natalie (Demeter/Persephone) and the most recent was a reproduction of a viscosity printed collagraph that started as an experiment with the viscosity printing technique but also required additional chine-colle as a way to give the composition some space and atmosphere.
Several friends, unable to come to my exhibition can view selected parts of the show online here. Many people relate to the bleached-out landscape of Lake Mungo and are haunted by it and, like me, have had quite a battle engaging with this amazing place as an archaeological, cultural and geological site.
I hadn’t set out to arrange artwork in a narrative sequence, however in the corridor of the gallery
I’ve noticed that on both walls are images about sand, erosion and climate changes. The ancient climate change thousands of years ago at Mungo depicted in small etchings sit opposite slightly larger etchings in which I had depicted aspects of erosion around Point Roadknight that is being rapidly transformed by incoming tides.
The images depicting aspects of Mungo are part of a variable edition. That is, one plate is used many times and combined with chine-colle and collage with the result that each image is a one off. I get really bored printing an edition in the traditional way, same image repeated as reproduction. I’m ok with about four identical images then I get bored and my mood demands change and variety. I’m sure I’m not alone here.
The chine-colle can be transparent or semi-transparent letting through underneath layers or alternatively opaque or metal leaf.
Sometimes in bleached-out places like Mungo the air has a metallic quality that’s hard to explain but its ‘shiny’ and ‘thin’.
Somehow by applying metals leaf I think I’ve made the atmosphere look a bit heavy but it does shine.
Because I had once lived in Central Queensland I was ready for the blast of heat and sensory bodily exposure. There are no cosy elements here; streams in which to cool off or gorges or foliage for shade, just desertification and dryness.
My first trip here was like a return to that type of country when I used to look for small micro climates in endless expanses of brigalow and mulga trees or like trying to paint in a dry river bed and observe small details like rocks and detritus left behind after the Wet.
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.
I continue this Mungo series with the addition of three more collages consisting of pieces of printed collagraph, gold leaf, handmade paper and pastel paper on BFK Rives print making paper. The strange glow of sunset on the Mungo dunes has eluded me in the past as the chocolate box look was an ever present danger. But I’ve often tried to depict my sunrise and sunset feelings of excitement, anticipation and joy.
Another version of landscape elements at Lake Mungo in printmaking media that consists of a roll up, chine colle and collagraph.
I returned to collagraph but thought I’d try it on metal plates instead of the more malleable wood or cardboard. However metal leaf as a part chine colle was not compatible as both attracted each other except in this case where the metal leaf had already been placed onto paper.
The process started unexpectedly when I had been working on a viscosity method of printing and had a ghost print left on my roller that looked more interesting than the viscosity print so I rolled it onto a sheet of BFK Rives 300 gsm and let it dry.
I noticed a square sample of gold leaf on red paper that I’d put away for later that matched the ghost roll. So the bright yellow of the roll left over from a viscosity print had picked up a red layer from the viscosity print and melded into the yellow layer.
I made a collagraph with scrunched tissue paper and carborundum in the shape of a dune glued and sealed onto a metal plate.
I inked the plate with blue black and raw umber with plenty of extender (maybe more would have lightened it a little). The plan for the darker layer was to tone down the layers beneath and tie together the gold leaf on the chine colle and the rather cool almost acid background yellow.
I love the art of the East and its textural nuance with which this prints seems to have an unexpected affinity but I’m not sure whether it quite captures the moonscape of Mungo. It does something else I think perhaps pointing me in another direction?