Art, Identity & Place

How wild places, deep time and archaeology inform my contemporary art process


Walga Rock

Walga (Walganna) Rock, 1.8 km long and composed of post-tectonic granite, is one of the many whalebacks scattered throughout the Yilgarn Craton. Situated on the Western section of the craton which consists of rocks of every Archean era with zircons dating back to the Hadean also clastic sedimentary rock. It consists of K-feldspar porphyritic monogranite that forms the type area thought to be approx. 2.5 billion years old.

Walga Rock cave entrance before sunset.

Walga Rock cave entrance before sunset.

Above the gallery situated on the cave wall are large slabs of granite in the process of ‘peeling off’  the main rock form. This process is caused by expansion and contraction of the surface because of extreme seasonal and diurnal temperatures in this inland (300 km), arid climate. Rain water and wind erosion molded and eroded the lower recessed section of the rock.

Walga Rock wind and rain water erosion ' peeling off ' slabs of granite.

Walga Rock wind and rain water erosion ‘ peeling off ‘ slabs of granite.

Wind and water erosion

Wind and water erosion forming cave wall.

The rock overhang protected the array of paintings. The depiction of a masted boat was quoted by archaeologists  as evidence of contact with sailors of European origin, firstly Dutch and then later archaeological evidence suggested a similarity between this depiction and the nineteenth century coastal steamer SS Xantho. (Bigourdan, 2006)

I took a rubbing/frottage from rocks as well as rice paper stains from soil far from the enclosure. They are a way for me to connect with the place via a tactile experience when I return to my studio. Often I adhere them with gesso to the canvas surface.

Walga Rock frottage, 22/04/13, 7.30 am, graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Walga Rock frottage, 22/04/13, 7.30 am, graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Walga Rock paper stain 1, 24/04/13, 7.40 am, soil stain on rice paper.

Walga Rock paper stain 1, 24/04/13, 7.40 am, soil stain on rice paper.

This technique is one that includes quick sketches done on site. Below are previous examples of this mixing of different media which I meld into large oil paintings. They may be viewed on my website : desterreart.com.au and are part of a series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Escarpment, 2007, 98x84 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape. Courtesy of the D. Hutton collection.

Escarpment, 2007, 98×84 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas
from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.
Courtesy of the D. Hutton collection.

Water Etching, 2003, 140x120 cm, mixed media on board from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Water Etching, 2003, 140×120 cm, mixed media on board
from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Igneous 2, 2004, 214x108 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas from series titled An Archaeology of Landscape

Igneous 2, 2004, 214×108 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas
from series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

P.S.  Correction: Feldspar should read K-feldspar. The “K”, refers to the Potassium content of feldspar. There are 3 K feldspars: microcline, sanidine and orthoclase (orthoclase and plagioclase, another type of feldspar, are often easily seen in volcanic rocks, they’re usually a milky to pinkish white).


Frottage from gorges

I took several rubbings from different sections of particular gorges. This is my was to reconnect to a place when I paint it later in my studio. Often I adhere frottage or stained paper to the canvas surface by placing it in a gesso solution as part of the under-painting. Because the materials are rice paper and graphite or charcoal there is a flexibility that enables me to alter dimensions by folding or tearing the paper to fit the theme and the composition.

Daled Gorge pathway frottage, 19/04/13, 3.00 pm., graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Dales Gorge pathway frottage, 19/04/13, 3.00 pm., graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Dales Gorge frottage, 20/04/13, 12.00 am, graphite on rice paper

Dales Gorge frottage, 20/04/13, 12.00 am, graphite on rice paper

Weano gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.50 am, one of the Karijini National Park gorges, graphite on rice paper.

Weano gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.50 am, one of the Karijini National Park gorges, graphite on rice paper.

Weano Gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.45 am, taken on gorge rim at the lookout, graphite on rice paper.

Weano Gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.45 am, taken on gorge rim at the lookout, graphite on rice paper.

The image below is a mixed media titled Stress Fold, 2004 that is one of a series of images which I titled An Archaeology of Landscape. This previous series consisted of oil, mixed media, gouache and pastel stain and was produced as a result of exploring different sites in the Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks in the Northern Territory. Viewers may peruse this series  at : desterreart.com.au   Stress Fold is an example of how pieces of frottage  meld into a larger composition.

Stress Fold, 2004, paper, pastel, thread, staples and canvas gessoed on to board.

Stress Fold, 2004, paper, pastel, thread, staples and canvas gessoed on to board 200×90 cm, from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.


Rock formation origin

Banded Iron Formation resembling a mosaic

Banded Iron Formation resembling a mosaic.

The gradual deposition of sediment and of rock layering record a time during the Archean when there was little oxygen in the atmosphere and the only life forms were bacteria and algae. Banded iron formation rich in iron and silica, while not fully understood,  is thought deposited by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Some forms of bacteria drew their energy from the earth via thermal activity near volcanoes. Others like the ones at Hamelin Pool, 3.5 billion years old, drew theirs from  sunlight through photosynthesis.  Iron derived from volcanic activity survived in the ocean which could have been red-brown colour such as the inland sea known as the Hamersley Basin. The earth’s atmosphere was only thought to be about 1% oxygen and as more oxygen entered the earth’s atmosphere it probably hastened the rusting and sedimentation of the iron laden ocean into this basin for 350 million years. This process and the period of time involved appear to have occurred through an unusually long stable period seen by the formation of up to 100 meter deep horizontal layers of banded iron in parts of the gorges.

Banded Iron Formation seen in Dales Gorge beside the path at the bottom of the gorge.

Banded Iron Formation seen in Dales Gorge beside the path at the bottom of the gorge.

Banded Iron Formation in Dales gorge at the gorge rim

Banded Iron Formation in Dales gorge at the gorge rim.

I noticed that the presence of shale where the iron and pink alternate seemed absent from the rock layering toward the rim. However the surface of the gorge walls in the shot below seem to indicate larger alternate layering and deposition of different rock material.

Banded iron gorge walls near Fortescue Falls in Dales Gorge.

Banded iron gorge walls near Fortescue Falls in Dales Gorge.

Asbestos rock sample on the floor of Dales Gorge

Asbestos rock sample on the floor of Dales Gorge


Rock formation in Karijini National Park

Fortescue Falls made of softer rock grey and pale brown dolomite.

Fortescue Falls made of softer rock grey and pale brown dolomite.

The rocks exposed in and around the gorges we explored such as Dales, Kalamina, Weano and viewed such as Joffre and Knox are mostly banded iron formation and belong to the Brockman Iron Formation part of the Hamersley Ranges. Deposited in the Hamersley Basin over a 350 million year period this formation consists of alternating layers of fine grain quartz, iron oxides, carbonate minerals and chert. Grey or pale brown Dolomite and beds of soft purple or pink shale are also present.

The uplifted and then deeply dissected plateau is called the Hamersley Surface where the gorge erosion probably took place in the Late Cretaceous or Early Cainozoic when the Pilbara gently titled North-Westward. Rivers then cut downward eroding softer shale and Dolomite finding lines of weakness in the joints and faults aiding head-ward erosion. The formation of the Karijini gorges is estimated to have taken 20 million years.

Joffre gorge shows layers of rock formation undisturbed for 350 million years.

Joffre gorge shows layers of rock formation undisturbed for 350 million years.


Karijini National Park

The strong sunlight and heat drenched arid landscape above the gorges was a complete contrast to the flora and lush environment within the gorges. This first general impression left me with a mental image of many light and feathery textures; the soft blue-purple distant ranges with light grey-brown dotted lines indicating foliage or closer ranges sometimes light khaki in colour with rusty rocky ridges. A mixture of middle distance greens ranged from dotted pale olive and sage with dull Naples yellow background followed by foreground yellow and sage spinifex growing from red-purple soil. This image contrasted with the heavy muscular rock forms with strong vibrant coloured surfaces; red iron dark and shiny veins of iron ore as well as asbestos. Rich, lush greens of the vegetation varied from ferns to fig tree roots which like the Snappy gums appeared to hold together parts of the side of the gorge. Large boulders were strewn onto the gorge floor.                                      View from Mt. Bruce

The image above was taken from Mt. Bruce a short distance from the gorges. In the gorges I selected particular  reflections and vegetation as a point of contrast  because they had a ‘Monet garden’ look about them without the horizon.

' Monet's garden 1'  in Dales Gorge

‘ Monet’s garden 1’ in Dales Gorge.

' Monet's garden 2' in Dales gorge

‘ Monet’s garden 2’ in Dales gorge.


Photographic record of Stromatolites

Hamelin Pool  Shark Bay Marine Park

Hamelin Pool
Shark Bay Marine Park

Stomatolite formation

Stromatolite formation occurs in four phases. Firstly filamentous cyanobacteria trap sand grains in mucous. Then heliotropic bacteria lay down a mucilaginous layer. Next sulphate-reducing bacteria form a layer of aragonite crystals. Lastly spherical cyanobacteria bore into this layer making tunnels into which are deposited reinforced crystals of aragonite.