MY ART PRACTICE HAS UNDERGONE numerous changes and trajectories. Initially I was influenced by a figurative painting tradition, then residencies including one at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, and the experience of working with an archaeological drawing team in Tarone, Greece had their profound effects.
For some years now my work has focused on landscape painting, specifically an exploration of what I think of as “the inland river in an enduring Australian landscape”.
The river is to me a source of fertility, a vital and pivotal life force with its cycles of renewal and destruction. In our nation’s psyche, limited water resources, droughts and floods mark our consciousness. Rivers are potent historical and cultural emblems embedded in our literature and visual language.
Working in the disciplines of painting and hand-built ceramics, exhibiting them alongside each other, I enjoy the cross fertilisation and interrelation between the gestural painterly mark and the threedimensional form; my work is a conversation between paint and clay.
A month’s residency at the Art Vault in Mildura, Victoria in 2011, was the initial impetus for my landscape series. Mildura, on the Murray River, depends on the river’s water supply, forming a stark contrast against the surrounding semi-arid mallee scrub.
Increasingly my work has moved away from any specific landscape, to become my own inner recollections, a reduced and abstracted essence of the land. The river, the trees, the rocks and broad spatial vistas become a series of signs or totems.
Embedded in my works are memories and recollections of my youth, swimming in the Wollombi Brook, with its shallow, amber gumleaf-stained edges moving to the cool mysterious deep green umber depths. For me the river is a place of connection, a journey undertaken and a vehicle back to a slower pace and sense of place.
In my painting ‘Language 1’, abstracted gestural calligraphic marks float above an expansive space of bleached and stained canvas. Colours transfuse from pinks to gold to blues, depending on the heat of the day. The marks made on the land are like a text or a series of musical notes, an implied language to be understood or deciphered. The works acknowledge our need to understand the land in order to work with and preserve its fragile ecosystems. Writer Don Watson, in The Bush, says, “We need a relationship with the land that does not demand submission from either party, that is built more on knowledge than hunger to possess.”
In my painting process, I prefer to use acrylic paint on linen. The flexibility of acrylics allows for spontaneous layering in quick succession. The texture and weave of the linen’s surface gives a density, a tenor and depth to the application. The works evolve intuitively. For me painting is a process of finding, losing, rubbing out and reinscribing. In my own humble way I am trying to find my own language.
Marks in the painting ‘Totems of the land’ have become a series of totemic signs, emblems suggesting shields, trees and a bird. They emerge, hover and dance across the shallow pictorial space. The river in the foreground reflects the stars and suggests hidden depths.
The historical has always been a uniting link in my work, such as in the painting ‘Language 3’. Here, the river is viewed from within and from above, revealing a language of layered histories echoing told and untold stories, or unearthed mysterious relics.
These paintings and ceramics were first exhibited in the exhibition, The Enduring Landscape, at Catherine Asquith Gallery in Melbourne in 2011. This was followed by
The Enduring Landscape and the Inland River at Arthouse Gallery in Sydney in 2012. Soon after these shows came the birth of my two sons, so I put on hold my exhibition development for the time being, but not my painting. With an urban home studio, set amongst debris of toys, prams and washing, short sojourns to the studio are possible. When working I feel an increasing need to make simple, confident calligraphic marks applied with a meditative approach. Depending on domestic demands, I can then return to these works the next day or the next week. I have actually found this new restriction has been a refreshing opportunity; fewer marks are made and there’s less chance of overworking. The materiality and tactility of ceramics is a direct link to the earth. Using a coiling technique and hand-building the form over a period of time mirrors the process, plasticity and sensuality of paint. There is integrity of purpose in making my own direct, unrefined forms. Not professing to be a skilled potter but approaching ceramics as a painter allows me the opportunity to integrate and play with form and the surface. Several layers of shiny shino glaze with underglaze paints, or stains and slips are applied, then all undergo numerous firings. The iron oxide of the stoneware clay bleeds through the layers of glaze on the ceramic surface, creating an alchemy of glaze, gestural marks and clay. An example of this work is ‘Land & shadows’, and I exhibited a grouping of larger scale vessels in The Course of Objects; the fine lines of inquiry at Manly Art Gallery and Museum, in Sydney in 2014. These evoke a sense of monumentality, a quality I also hope to encapsulate in my paintings. Ceramic vessels have always been a presence in my work. I initially experimented with painting on wheelthrown utilitarian objects which I exhibited alongside my paintings. Then I explored the functionality of the utilitarian object, and later produced a series of paintings of the vessel focusing on its totemic presence and simplicity of form. These journeys have led to my commitment in pursuing hand-built ceramics as painterly sculptural objects with an inner poetic presence. The current body of work I am developing will be shown at Arthouse Gallery in 2019, exhibiting both ceramics and paintings. I aim to further develop the relationship between the two mediums within an installation context, introducing sound and video, culminating in an exhibition at Manning Regional Art Gallery, also in 2019.
01 Land & shadows, 2014, stoneware ceramic and glaze, 40 x 36 x 22cm, photographer Jenni Carter 02 The Inland River, 2012, acrylic on linen, 152 x 168cm, photographer Diana Panuccio 03 Language 1, 2017, acrylic on linen, 153 x 168cm, Photographer Jenni Carter
04 Kate Dorrough, portrait in studio, photographer Diana Panuccio
05 The course of objects; fine lines of inquiry, installation view, Manly Art Gallery, 2014, stoneware ceramic with glaze, 55 x 35 x 23cm to 40 x 36 x 22cm