Who is the real vandal?
Bus shelter on Macarthur Avenue O’Connor, previously home to “Madonna and Mirror”.
The film starts to become real and our hero (anti-hero) chokes on cue trying to balance popular elements with that, which is of interest only to him. It could be like a performance, leaving behind its atmospheric radiance to alter the environment and disrupt the lives of those who pass through the theatre – the shelter. Something surprising and incongruous such as a paste-up can cause shifts in our consciousness. Just as an advertisement is intended to work on us in a subliminal fashion while we wait for the bus. The wall is now changed, that which had had its imperfections previously committed to memory – a mark in the shape of a slipper moon; a crack like a bolt of lightening and a stain in the shape of a gingerbread man stuffed with darkness.
”Summer Gold Resting Place” 1998 Acrylic on Canvas 160 x 300 cm
The sheep has long been a subject of my painting. I moved with my family to Newstead, a small township cradled between Ballarat and Bendigo in the central Victorian gold fields in September 1993 – a shift that was to have a profound impact on my life as an artist. Fresh out of art school and still full of first urges, I carried around for the longest time a sense of freedom that being on extended holiday might evoke. But also there was great confusion and disorientation, strange feelings lingering in the silence of the night before being shattered by an anxious dog screaming off down the drive way after the shadow of a rabbit. We lived on six acres of hungry country adjacent to an enormous sheep run, still owned by the relatives of the original squattocracy. My mother would walk around the fence line marking the border of our block in what she referred to as ‘the park’, just to get a sense of the place. It took her several weeks to become acquainted with the nearest neighbours buried behind bushland. Everyone along Pound Lane new all about the new arrivals of course, shyly refraining from pushy inquiries, waiting for the right moment for greetings. Having taken a tiny offering of fruit cake, the only suitable thing she had and returned from a warm reception with arms full of organically grown fruit and vegies, a feeling of welcome at last emerged.
“Hungry Country” 1998 Mixed media on paper 85 x 65 cm
The house was really just a weekender, with windows dulled by the previous residents chain smoking and the residue of kerosene lanterns. Without grid electricity and mains water, it felt like more of a home for the mice, in plague proportions that first season, than for its new and confused residents, colloquially known by the local community as “blow ins”. With just an existing rickety solar set-up that failed in the first weeks, and an old generator that nearly caused me to pull my arm out of its socket trying to start it, tribulations abounded. We quickly realised the impressive collection of kerosene lights the previous owners had accumulated were not just for show as they had intimated! I spent many evenings drawing by flickering light pretending to emulate the feats of artists from a previous era. Eventually, all the notions we brought with us, dreamily espoused, found a niche alongside the wrens in the eaves laying tiny blue eggs and pig face clinging to the gardens edges and the noise of the spring lambs crying for their mothers.
”An Ideal For Living” 1998 Acrylic on Canvas 110 x 90 cm
I formed a deep affinity with the central Victorian landscape as both a subject to paint and a place to belong. Beginning with a set of black and white ink drawings, and then gradually introducing colour and methods to depict the complex tangle of twigs and leaf litter, wallaby grass and the patterned yellow box trunks and stumps that dominate the landscape. With each step deeper into the paddocks, a certain strangeness creeps in, a sense that the world remains foreign and irreducible in its complexity – a rock, a branch, a collection of wool and bones. The dead sheep came to represent the fragility of our relationship with the land, a powerful symbol for just how it resists the changes we bring to it. I found many stopping places in my wanderings. Dam’s, reflecting the skyline in upside down darkness boarded by the fire of sunset where I could sit for an eternity listening to the persistent music of insects, like metal on metal and one call reminiscent of Aboriginal rhythm sticks. I would return my akubra bearing a sweat ring and my eyes shining out from beneath its brim like sparks in a 5 day growth. On one side the straggly remnant box iron bark forest bordering a vast paddock dotted with tree stumps, sweeping up toward a hill peaked with sheep silhouettes in convoy. On the other, tufts of wallaby grass springing out of the green aches and spinney’s of saplings crowned with the pale blue grey gum tips that had emerged in the absence of live stock. One evening I returned having walked straight through a muddy dam, an intoxicated bunyip, now resembling the colour of the place. I had hoped to be absorbed, to become indistinguishable from, the yellow curtin of summer grasses and the blue grey hair do’s of the tall gums. My brother Philip turned to me and said, ‘What the bloody hell happened to you?” I just shrugged and grinned in a way that alluded to the ridiculous.
”Resting Place” 2000 Mixed Media on paper 45 x 60 cm
It is hungry country, dead trees reaching skyward as if begging for moisture. When the rains do arrive, the banks of the Loddon river are breached and low lying roads washed away. The water would run off the surface, headed for troughs and valleys scarcely seeping two inches into the hard crust of the ground. In the wooded areas a poppet head might loom out of the scraggly wilderness, the ghost of a thing of beauty, no tree older than the last great clearing. My father’s ancestors had lived in Redcastle, a small township north of Heathcote, also a mining area associated with the Costerfield district that had been settled in the 1860’s. A whole host of reefs were opened up, with names like Mary Jane, Guiding Star and Beautiful Venus, formed along fault lines. It was a time when populations rapidly swelled and alluvial minors made a good living. Stephen Mitchell my great great grandfather had opened up reefs in 1859 that by the early 20th century saw Cyanide works set up to extract gold from tailings. As a family we had under taken a pilgrimage of sorts to what was left of the town in the early 1980’s, just the occasional scattering of handmade bricks, and ironwork around the quartz in the cemetery. It was little more than a dot on the map, still listed in homage to its earlier significance. Away from the main site of the graveyard was a fence line along which some 50 Chinamen were reportedly buried. This link to the area gave credence to our decision to shift and make it our home.
”Newstead Woodlands Rhythm” 2000 Acrylic on canvas laid down on board 175 x 190 cm
”Newstead Summer Idyll” 1999 Acrylic on Canvas 60 x 80 cm