06 August 2018

Holy Mountain

Respect the Mountain is holding an exhibition from 9 to 12 August 2018 at the Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart. To quote the exhibition organisers:

Dear kunanyi is an exhibition of contemporary artistic responses to kunanyi / Mount Wellington. The exhibition looks at our relationship with the mountain, its importance to our city and its presence in our lives. We are creating a patchwork quilt of experiences, thrown around us just when the winter is at its darkest, and we need it most.

This is the painting I did for the show:

Holy Mountain    oil on canvas     90 cm x 212 cm

I don't know how Tasmania's original inhabitants regarded it, but over the past two centuries kunanyi has been explored by bushrangers, scientists, athletes and holiday makers. On its slopes you can find many traces of past activity.

This painting is a playful meditation on the various people who have enjoyed kunanyi. Do not attempt to take it literally – let your imagination wander among the rocks and bushes, feel the sun on your back and the wind in your face, and next time you stroll along one of the many mountain paths, hear the spirits of those who walked kunanyi before you.

A week later:

When I went to collect my painting from the gallery I discovered I had won second prize in the People's Choice award! Many thank yous to all you lovely people who liked my painting better than the other hundred and fifty or so in the exhibition.

24 July 2018


Haunted Landscape is a carefully selected collection of paintings about landscape, memory, and the passage of time. These paintings were exhibited at Nolan Art Gallery in Salamanca Place, Hobart, between 21 July and 14 August 2018. You do not have to agree with my commentary; bring your own experiences and interpretations, but above all, don't take them too seriously. Relax and enjoy!

Following the Van - 66 cm x 112 cm oil on canvas


Is that an actual mountain? Somebody asked. I had to say “no – I made it up”.
I spend a lot of time walking in landscape, looking at landscape, and occasionally recording a piece of its history, often illustrated with photographs I have taken.
The infinite variety of shapes, texture and colour in the Tasmanian bush provides me with endless inspiration, but when it comes to painting I am not interested in recording an accurate image of a specific feature. My paintings are about ideas. Landscapes provide the stage and help set the mood of the picture and I adjust and modify them freely to fit my needs, working from memory but occasionally referring to a photograph for an odd detail.
The people I walk with are never as strange as these, and so far the landscape has never been so desolate. The caravan has moved on, and the stragglers are left behind.

McCrae's Hill - 91 cm x 76 cm oil on canvas


In the early nineteenth century Mr McCrae and his wife took up land near the foot of the Western Tiers. They built a standard Georgian farmhouse; the front rooms red brick; the back, over the brick-lined cellars, were timber. Perhaps the intention was to rebuild in brick once land was cleared and money came in from crops and livestock.
Decades passed. Properties changed hands, new roads were formed. McCrae's Hill, a low rise surrounded by swamp, was marooned far from commonly travelled paths. In the twentieth century the old house was abandoned in favour of a new home convenient to the road. Now great trees that once shaded a colonial garden lie rotting across the path. The head of a broken windmill hangs upside down over a rusty tank. Timbers have rotted away. There are gaping holes in the wall where bricks have crumbled, floors and staircase are treacherous, the stone lintel fallen onto the steps below. Nature, season by season, reclaims its own.

Among The Fallen - 66 cm x 97 cm oil on canvas


There is a historic cemetery in Richmond, behind Australia's oldest church. Below it flows the Coal River, where a platypus may occasionally be glimpsed at sunset.
My friend and I walked, after a scenic drive and cream tea, among the crooked headstones, reading names of other people's ancestors. The hill is steep, the grass was wet, and my friend slipped and fell. It was not a serious fall, but she has back trouble and was in a lot of pain. It was a few moments before she let me help her up, and we made jokes about fallen women. She wore a pale coloured coat; I was in my customary black. By the time we reached home all these images had begun to form a picture, and this is what it became. We didn't see a platypus that day, but I thought a thylacine was more appropriate. After all, we didn't see one of them, either.

Settlement Day - 66 cm x 97 cm oil on canvas


The idea for this painting fermented in the back of my mind for many years, bubbling to the surface now and then, until I decided it was probably ready. A lot of preparatory drawings were rejected or, in some cases, re-purposed to appear in other paintings.
Tasmanians are regularly reminded that we are descended from invaders who stole the land; in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a country anywhere that hadn't, at some time, suffered an invasion. Here is a happy farm in a pretty valley, loosely based on a property I visited on the Clyde River near Hollow Tree. A dark force is approaching; this does not augur well.
I particularly enjoyed painting the sheep. Sheep are cute, warm, woolly, slightly demented (by human standards) and incredibly useful. They have completely changed the landscape, nibbling vegetation to its roots, compacting the soil and churning up mud with their sharp little hooves. Native bushland is turned into pasture to accommodate them. Some people call this deplorable environmental damage. Other people call it economic development. Anyway, here they are, a vital component of rural industry or ravenous little beasts intent on destruction.
The phrase “settlement day” has at least three different meanings – invasion, retribution or debt collection. Take your pick. If you think of another one, let me know.

Laughing Girl - 76 cm x 61 cm oil on canvas


This is a painting “of” three figures based on an old family photograph, and a distinctive feature on the Clyde River near Hollow Tree, but that is not what it is “about”.
It is about landscape and the memory of people who have passed through it. As future becomes present and fades into yesterday, only memories remain. A thousand generations have left their memories on this country; I am qualified to address only those arriving since the end of the eighteenth century. The characters in my paintings are no more sad, happy, benign or malicious than people you meet every day, nor are they lost souls. They are part of the land and its history.

Bones of the Ancestors - 76 cm x 152 cm oil on canvas


Everywhere we go, we find traces of people who went before us. “Bones” in this context include any skeletal structure, be it metal, masonry or timber. Anything that endures after the soft bits are gone. I have even extended it to include earthworks, ruined forests and colonial history. That might be stretching it a bit, but it's my painting and I make the rules.
Wherever you get interesting ruins (and a successful marketing strategy) you get tourists as well. I have painted about them in the past, and will have more to say in future paintings.

A Child's Guide to Wilderness - 84 cm x 91 cm oil on canvas


This painting is about the present, and more easily explained in dot points. Interpret them as you will.
  • we live in an increasingly urban environment and many people rarely experience bushland or natural places. They run on treadmills, climb indoor walls and inhabit virtual landscapes where they can farm or fight as they please
  • nature has become a theme park, where the wealthy go to play on their holidays while David Attenborough shows the pretty bits to people who can't afford holidays
  • “wilderness” is a modern construct; there is no such thing as a pristine landscape, especially in Australia where it has been carefully managed for thousands of years. “Wild” simply means “neglected”
  • we are increasingly spreading plastic and other pollutants all over the country and ocean, to the detriment of the non-human people trying to share the natural world with us
  • does it matter?

02 July 2017

Ancestral Memories and a Gothic gully

A chilly Saturday morning, with snow on the mountain, frost on the garden and the Bridgewater Jerry winding its way down the river. I tossed a bucket of water over my car to clear ice from the windscreen and went to meet the rest of the group for a walk on private land on the approaches to Spring Hill. We parked beside the Colebrook Rd and headed off into the paddocks.

frost on the ferns

shadows on the frost

The first part of the walk followed the appropriately-named Serpentine Valley Creek.

We became very familiar with this creek as it wound its way back and forth across our path and we hopped, scrambled and splashed across it. There were also plenty of fences to climb.

the weathered sandstone hills closed in on each side

the valley floor remains in shadow, but sunlight catches the higher rocks

big rocks

 Really big rocks

more big rocks
past mid-day - and there's still frost in the shadows
Although this was generally a fairly level walk, the energetically inclined scrambled up hills to inspect particularly interesting caves

we stopped for lunch on a sunny hillside

The trouble with living alone is nobody else will make your lunch. Today I invented a new game - Schroedinger's Lunchbox. While I didn't look in it, my lunchbox contained roast fowl, venison pastries, delicate salads, charlotte russe and a small bottle of white wine. Alas, when I opened it I found this:

compulsory food shot 

Life is full of these little disappointments, but I wasn't going to let it spoil a lovely day.

Coffee in hand I followed several other people along a sheep track to a delightfully bijou cavelet a little higher up the hill.

I did remember to pick up my coffee mug

view from the cave
lone Blackwood
as if I don't have enough photographs of rocks and trees

FAQ of the day "Do we really have to cross it here, or can we get around on this side?" 

some cows wonder what we're doing in their paddock

the end of the valley in sight
At the end of the valley we joined the route of the convict-built coach road from Kempton to Lovely Banks. This runs through another rocky gorge called Murderers Gully, ostensibly where bushrangers held up the odd coach. It is certainly an isolated, unfriendly place to have to travel through and a great place for an ambush. In the 1820s Major Bell changed the route to somewhere near the present line of the Midlands Highway, through more open country, but some people still seem to have used the Serpentine Valley road.

entering Murderers Gully

we looked in vain for convict remains but alas, there is barely even a trace of the old road left

In Highway in Van Diemens Land, G. Hawley Stancombe wrote "Nearby and to the east lies the curious Serpentine Valley . . . It rejoined the Main Road at the foot of Spring Hill, but was too narrow for carts, being a narrow defile between steep cliffs."

Robert Knopwood travelled to the Tamar in 1814. He described Stony, or Serpentine Valley, as "a beautiful valley but should you meet with the natives you must inevitably loose [sic] your life the hills of each pass so high that they would kill you with stones."

Governor Macquarie went this way when he travelled on horseback from Hobart-Town to Port Dalrymple in 1811. With a  cavalcade of officials and a military escort to accompany them, they would have had little fear of attack.

up another optional  hill
a magnificent cave at the top

and the den of a Tasmanian Devil

One of my forebears was the District Police officer at Kempton (then Green Ponds) in the 1830s; he would have been familiar with the road through this dark valley.  Another hired out his bullock team to Governor Macquarie for his second trip to Port Dalrymple in 1821.

Many of my ancestors lived at Ross, Oatlands, Jericho and Parattah and some travelled frequently to Hobart.

I tried to imagine my great-great-great-great grandmother here in a small horse-drawn conveyance late on a winter afternoon; what warm clothing would she be wearing? Would she have a soft possum-skin rug to wrap around her knees? And would she and her companion be urging their pony to trot faster, fearing that at any moment some rough character or a group of aborigines would leap down upon them from the enclosing hills?

We had no such things to bother us. We encountered nothing more terrifying than a large black bull who was not too sure whether we should be in his territory, but did no more than snort and paw the ground as we passed.

there is some evidence of roadworks here
the bull didn't seem exactly overjoyed to see us
the end of the gully must have been a welcome sight for coachmen
looking back up Murderers Gully from the safety of open country

the moon in the early afternoon

25 June 2017

Another Winter Festival

Dark Mofo finished last weekend – but that's not the only festival that brightens up a Tasmanian winter.


It was a chilly evening, but a large group of people turned out at Cornelian Bay for the Multicultural Council of Tasmania's celebration of Refugee Week. 

Earlier this month I spent two Sundays at the Red Cross office in Melville Street with a horde of enthusiastic lantern-making volunteers. 

Naomi, designer, instructor, and terrifyingly efficient person, managed to organise a motley crowd of all ages and levels of ability wielding strips of gaffer tape, five-metre lengths of cane, and various sharp implements in a confined space.

The following weekend we came back and worked with buckets and brushes of glue, grease-proof paper and lots of people milling around in the same confined space. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, somehow nobody ended up seriously injured or wallpapered to the ceiling, nobody put their foot in a bucket of water, and we succeeded in transforming cane and paper into five big lanterns – a leafy sea dragon, lighthouse, sea turtle, dove and pelican.

I've been looking forward to seeing them in action – and tonight it happened. Here are the pictures:

the choir

ready for the onslaught


the drummers

the dancers
so here's the lantern I worked on - with many other people, I hasten to add

and here are the rest of them

lit up - it's almost dark enough to see the pretty lights

Lucie Cutting, who did all the organising, opens proceedings
My camera doesn't have a lot of fancy settings, being the cheapest one I could buy (within reason) so I had to take an awful lot of photos to get these two. They're still not very good, but you get a bit of an idea.

oh look - the pelican again!
And last of all, this: