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Progress of Snow Gum painting

While working on this image I have been thinking about my visit to the 2016 Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) at GOMA at the beginning of this year and what I observed and felt about the themes of greed driven environmental destruction that emerged from many of the images.

The whole reason for me to base my Fellowship on what is occurring in Tasmania is my concern for what is and has been occurring there over the last five decades. This is not counting the destruction that had taken place well before this with the Hydro Commission and their desperate need to dam every river.

In my childhood I tried to enjoy the outdoor environment that Tasmania had to offer. Being raised in Burnie, an industrial town on the north west coast, I swam in the oceans that were stained red from the dyes that were pumped as effluent into the ocean from the Titan Paint Factory. I made shapes from the froth that was a bi-product from the pulp and paper mill (APPM). I breathed the air that was marked by the emissions that were spewed out of the chimney stacks from the sulphuric acid plant that was next door to APPM.  Even at this early age I wondered why there were no crabs under the rocks, no crustaceans clinging to the side of them and definitely no fish swimming through the waters that surrounded them. All this raised concerns that something was not quite right. This has instilled in me an acute awareness about the importance of the place where we live and what surrounds this.

 After nearly 40 years of living in WA, and then returning to Tasmania to rekindle an unresolved and somewhat flawed relationship I have with the place I found myself driving through kilometer after kilometer for close on an hour of pine and eucalyptus plantations which raised in me major concerns about how we look after something that is integral to our survival.

So it seems to me that what is occurring in Tasmania is emblematic of what is occurring in other parts of the world especially in regard to the basic disregard for the lives of the many people who live and thrive within these communities.

The APT was filled with these representations and showed in many ways how the communities with in these environments are coping (or not coping) with the destruction of what you could only describe as their home. This by the way has just recently been classified as a contemporary psychological disorder which is called solistalgia. Simply put it is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. This phenomenon really interests me and, in a way, names what my work is all about.

Viewing the APT I was very curious to see how other artists represented these environmental concerns and how the affected communities were adapting and taking a stance against these disruptive forces.  

Australian artist Gunybi Ganambarr from north east Arnhem land engraved the surface of conveyor belts that were used at a local bauxite mine. On the surface of the conveyor-belt-rubber he engraved local clan designs that were important to his culture. For me a strong reference to the erosion of his land and culture that was disappearing quite literally on these conveyor belts to ships headed to other lands.

Gunybi Ganambarr

Gunybi Ganambarr

I found the work in this show confronting.  It confirmed for me that this issue is prevalent everywhere especially in third world countries that are vulnerable to corruption.

Browsing the descriptions of each piece I noted that these words were used many times over: migration, survival, transformation, transition, replacement, globalisation, identity, market forces, colonialism, modernisation, politics, loss, heritage, capitalism, exploitation, alienation, belonging, disappearing. Sort of sums it up really.

I will find a way to incorporate references to these words in the work that I am about to embark on to hopefully open up the type of discourse the might take place. This I have done before where I referenced confronting articles about indigenous  displacement  from one of the original newspapers in Tasmania called The Colonial Times.  An example is one of my waxworks called Engendered Territory (see below). I know that the ash can inherently speak about these issues but would like to push the boundaries of this subject more.

Engendered Territory

Engendered Territory

Back to the development of the snow gums image. I have now completed two more panels to a level where they are ready to be assembled with the rest of the sections as they are completed for their final adjustment. Here are three. Six more to follow.

The above three sections form the left side of the painting. To follow will be the centre section made up of another three panels and then the right side made up of three more panels.

The above three sections form the left side of the painting. To follow will be the centre section made up of another three panels and then the right side made up of three more panels.

Snow Gums

Walking in Mount Field with Stuart from the Hobart Walkers Club as a guide.

 

After a reconnaissance walk on the first day at Mount Field, Stuart and myself stayed at the Hobart Walkers Club chalet preparing ourselves for a longer walk up onto the Tarn shelf and further the next day.

 Woke the following morning to rain so we sat  it out for a few hours hoping that it would stop so that we could do a seven hour walk that we had been planning for the last week.

Stopped raining at 9.15am but still very windy so decided to test the gear and walk the Tarn Shelf only, via some very old snow gums.

A steep incline up to the snow gums growing around large rocks covered in the most extraordinary patterns of moss and other lichens. Such an ancient landscape. These trees grasping for life are gnarled and twirled around these exposed, ancient rocks.  A great subject for the next ash painting.

This landscape that is often covered in snow, once again expresses the way it can adapt to conditions of extreme cold, heat and powerful winds. Absolutely magnificent!

Gets me to thinking how this landscape, untouched by human intervention, can survive conditions where we humans would perish in, in a very short time.  Yet as a result of the uncomfortable alliance of human ingenuity and insensitivity we can decimate something that has survived since Gondwanaland.

All this is a great subject for my next piece. I am hoping by stating this landscape in ash it might help to convey the precarious nature of this environment. Something about the way the trees are clinging around rocks to survive. To help with the drama I will take the tones further apart so that the black is stronger and the lightest tone will stay about the same. There is very little adjustment in making the lightest tone lighter when you consider it is produced from ash. I will introduce remnant ash that I have collected from the fires in the north west into this next painting. 

Ash collected from the fire in the North West

Ash collected from the fire in the North West

On this occasion I didn’t get to the fire early enough so I could only collect charcoal remnants. All the finer, lighter ash that has the carbon burnt out of it is very prone to dissipating very easily with wind and rain. So with the charcoal collected I will then combine this with the ash that I have in reserve for this very occasion to make the five tones needed for this particular painting. It will take about 4 days to separate, grind and filter.

Reserved ash as collected from home fires.

Reserved ash as collected from home fires.

After the predicted 4 days this is the result I have ended up with. The black being a lot darker than usual because of reasons stated above which allows more variation in the tonal values.

Result of ash that has been ground, filtered and separated into the 5 tones specifically for next painting.

Result of ash that has been ground, filtered and separated into the 5 tones specifically for next painting.

Since this painting will be in nine parts I will add each part to this blog as it is completed.

To help with the drama of this image I have decide to make its overall dimension 1900mm high X 2400 wide hoping that a large size will add the appropriate impact.

The first part completed to a level where I can move on to the next.

The first part completed to a level where I can move on to the next.

Arcadia

Artwork Statement:   Arcadia contrasts John Glover’s The Ruins of the Paestum at Salerno against the Tasmanian landscape, depicted here in ash. The work by Glover, which was painted after his arrival in Launceston from sketches in his diaries, carries his pre-exisiting notions of idealised and bucolic European landscapes to Tasmania. Through this juxtaposition Arcadia explores the nature of these colonial attitudes, and how they continue to affect our approach to the natural environment today. The Tasmanian landscape in the work is created from ash collected from an area in Glover country (near Patterdale) which had been cleared and burnt for plantation.

Artwork Statement:  

Arcadia contrasts John Glover’s The Ruins of the Paestum at Salerno against the Tasmanian landscape, depicted here in ash. The work by Glover, which was painted after his arrival in Launceston from sketches in his diaries, carries his pre-exisiting notions of idealised and bucolic European landscapes to Tasmania. Through this juxtaposition Arcadia explores the nature of these colonial attitudes, and how they continue to affect our approach to the natural environment today.

The Tasmanian landscape in the work is created from ash collected from an area in Glover country (near Patterdale) which had been cleared and burnt for plantation.

___________

The original title for this painting was In Arcadian Bliss but after writing the above statement about this piece the title seemed a little over stated.

The idea behind this work was to explore the ways in which humans treat the environment expecting it to provide sustenance for us for eternity without any consequences or responsibilities. If the First Australians can have sustained life here for well over 40,000 years and lived on what the flora and fauna provided without threatening its existence suggests that these attitudes arrived with the colonisers, and still exist today. The consequences of these attitudes are explored in this work.

Process:

Part of the Fellowship is to develop new and different ways of applying ash to create specific effects regarding subject.

In this case I have used a different technique to the pixel process so that I can add more detail to the subject (pixels remove detail and break down the image). I have created an ash landscape that incorporates threatened and extinct Tasmania species of fauna. To help inform this process I visited TMAG’s museum division to access their archives where I photographed and collected details of endangered species I could use.

I want the creatures to belong in an integral way to the landscape. To assist with this I brought the tones much closer together to convey their integration in the landscape, and to suggest that they may be moving from existence to memory.

Creating this sense of memory represents the fragility of existence.

This detail above shows how nebulous and almost crude the detail in the image can be especially when it comes to defining specific detail in ash. The great thing is that when it is assembled and viewed from a distance as a completed image it all seems to makes sense.

Development of subject:

In the development of this work I explored John Glover country in the northern part of Tasmania. John Glover is an artist who arrived in Tasmania after establishing himself in England as an artist painting in the Romantic style, after Claude Lorraine. Glover's approach re-imagined Tasmania as an idealised, pre-colonial Arcadia.

I felt he was a good example of Colonial attitudes migrating to our shore, and being expressed through art.

Starting near his home in Patterdale I travelled towards Ben Lomond hoping to find some semblance of the landscape that Glover himself would have seen in the mid 19th Century, but was only to be thwarted by plantations and clear felling created by Gunns and Forestry Tasmania.

On this journey I collected some remnants of charcoal left from one of the clear felled areas just near Ben Lomond National Park, and this was used in the creation of Arcadia.

Instead of depicting this damaged landscape in the final work I decided to use a landscape I had captured previously on a walk through Mount Wellington National Park, a scene which gave a sense of what the untouched landscape may have looked like.

The main area of the canvas has been constructed in ash, incorporating within this landscape many different threatened and extinct species in Tasmania.

The Glover image that is recreated on the easel in the foreground is a painting that is housed at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. This work by Glover was painted after his arrival in Patterdale from sketches in his diaries that where made during a trip to Italy. This diary, in some way, is the carrier of Glover's pre-existing notions and assumptions of the Australian landscape. And is these notions that arguably have upset the equilibrium of the flora and fauna in Tasmania.

Remnants

While researching for my 2016 Creative Development Fellowship I have been investigating contested landscapes in Tasmania considering the nature of human relationships to the natural world, one which is founded on both dependence and disregard. Unsustainable forestry and logging are resulting in the loss of natural environments that are home to endangered flora and fauna.

Remnants is a work that has been created in response to a visit to the Styx forest in the south of Tasmania. There is an area there where, in less than five metres, you can walk from a pristine rain forest to an area that has been completely cleared, in disregard for the precious life that existed there. For this work I choose an aerial view of one of the fallen trees that had been pummeled into the clay by the tracks of the bulldozers.

 

The image is created from small pyramids of ash, using a pixelated technique, that has been collected from areas around the state that have been affected. When you view this image from a distance it almost looks photographic but as you move closer to investigate the detail, the image begins to break down until, up close, you are confronted with a digitised abstraction in burnt ash.  The result functions as a metaphor for the disappearing landscape itelf.

Ash is a strange medium and it is loaded with inherent meaning. For me there is something very exciting about taking a material that has be discarded and attempting to give it new life by returning it to a form that resembles what it once was.

It can be horrible stuff if it is not used correctly. For example if you attempt to bind it in a medium like acrylic or oil it completely changes its appearance and alters how it is represented. It does not look like ash anymore it just becomes another pigment but very course and aesthetically unpleasant. 

So what I am attempting to do is use the ash in a way that still retains a sense of its originality and juxtapose this with another medium that is the complete antithesis, like wax and oil. Ash being monotone and rough, wax being very smooth and coloured by the oil paint.

Working on tonal definition

After two and a half days mixing the ash into the five tones, and another four days of application I think this second attempt works better. There is more definition in the between the tones and therefore in the image to create detail that I need to be able to represent the 'hidden' fauna within the work.

Second trial of the first panel of a major work. This time with an alteration in the tonal variation to allow more details to come through, while still creating an aged and faded aesthetic. 

Second trial of the first panel of a major work. This time with an alteration in the tonal variation to allow more details to come through, while still creating an aged and faded aesthetic. 

First attempt at the panel on the right, second attempt on the left. You can see the difference in the tonal variation if you look at the details. 

First attempt at the panel on the right, second attempt on the left. You can see the difference in the tonal variation if you look at the details. 

It is a very subtle thing but if you look closely at the two Orange Bellied Parrots (one in the top left and one towards the bottom right of each panel) the definition is more apparent without being too obvious in the second, where as in the first the parrots where very hard to define, and the second parrot almost unrecognisable.

This segment is one part of nine so as the image progresses I will keep this blog updated on its progress.

Experimentations in ash

One of the aims of the Creative Development Fellowship that I have recently been granted from the Department of Culture and the Arts is to develop new ways of applying ash to create specific effects that speak about the subject.

An unsuccessful working panel for a new work - demonstrating the ways in which I can lose detail when the tonal contrast in the ash is not strong enough. 2015

An unsuccessful working panel for a new work - demonstrating the ways in which I can lose detail when the tonal contrast in the ash is not strong enough. 2015

Here I have departed from the pixelated process so that I can add more detail to the subject. I’m aiming to create an ash landscape that incorporates threatened and extinct species. A “Where’s Wally” idea. I wanted to bring the tones much closer together to create the impression of distant memory.

If you look at this image from a distance you can see the Orange Bellied Parrot that is one of the most threatened species in Tasmania at the moment. In fact there are two of them in this image, but the ash has made them too nebulous.

After five days of application I now realise that limiting tones and attempting detail at the same time do not go hand in hand. I think, in this case, I have failed to capture the details in the image. I am pleased that I tried this on a small scale rather than finishing a major work and then discovering its fate. I will now attempt it with tones further apart and try to refine the way the ash is delivered (still very crude) so that the detail is more accessible… a work in progress.