Art, Identity & Place

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

Art landscape painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45x55 cm, oil on board. Lake Mungo is a dried lake in southern New South Wales, Australia

Poetry by Patricia Sykes and Painting the Landscape at Lake Mungo

Background

The small featured image above titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45×55 cm, part of my series on the Home page titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, had a gestation of 22 years, an unusually long time frame.

My first trip to Mungo, when I joined a group of friends and camped, was tricky because we set off in December when the temperature reached 40 degrees. By late afternoon it was time, having sheltered in the camping ground, to explore, sketch and take photographs as evening set in and stars emerged. The next day consensus to reach water-filled Menindee lakes meant that exploration at the mysterious and haunting dry Lake Mungo was severely curtailed. A very disappointed artist feeling a little short-changed vowed to return. So I found it difficult to start work, however the result was one oil painting of a sand blown grumpy person standing in front of a night sky.

Portrailt profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84x60 cm

Portrait profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84×60 cm

Another excursion

In 2001 a poet friend and I set out in Late September, intending to camp for a week at least. Some things that I noticed about this arrival  were the absence of deeply eroded gullies, a relatively smooth terrain and the vast stretch of sky. The country was in the grip of an extremely severe drought so naturally gullies were now buried under layers of sand. Although we took notes, photographs and sketches, harsh conditions and dust storms  sent us scurrying for cover. I felt an existential uneasiness caused by a type of desert exposure, the relentless blue sky and reflected heat from sand, compared for example with the embrace of a colourful gorge.

It was as though we were being watched from below which the painting above hints at without my realisation at the time. The sense that there was no relief from this desiccated but beautiful place was unnerving and once again like this site, creativity also dried. It wasn’t until evening that the desert’s multi-coloured sand mirrored the colours in the sky. Until evening, the sun’s relentless bright light faded subtle colour and the pools of our shadows felt as though they could draw us down into the earth.  Full stop for me again.

Inspiration

The image above ‘called out’ one day, it became a touchstone so although I wanted to paint a landscape I painted instead a portrait of my fellow traveller and poet, seen below in a painting titled  Dust Borne. At that time we were captivated by the vastness of a night sky’s black backdrop throwing into contrast the milky way,  visible clearly only in the desert. It was then that I remembered her poem about Mungo.

Expressionist portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper. From series titled Poet's Process.

Portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper 100×50 cm

This poem written in 2004 came to my rescue . The excerpt below from the poem titled, ” blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech”, from Modewarre: Home Ground, described  ideas and feelings we shared at the Mungo site.

……………………………

between fluidity

and fixity the pilgrim poem begins to turn

cerulean blue           it is thinking of island

as metaphor for self and wishes to fly there

later, an artist friend e-writes me her theory

that brain cells re-wire themselves when

new images emerge

some live some die

we decide our techno-umbilical conversations

are a thin layer of water clarifying our mutual

obsession with elements mirroring each other

as in shredded emotions and the luminous

Mungo sands          it’s not the sands that make

us feel phoney         it’s the gawk factor, tourism

in the season of ‘ going there’       our paltry tents

among the dust storms              and thirst so driven

a kangaroo stealths in to drink the dishwater

               what the moon sees the moon exposes

among the now eyes the bones the hard facts shifting

shifting                 old fingers of hunger which  cannot settle

and why should they why should they if it is only

to make a future comfortable

                    ‘ the grief that can be trusted is the one

                       that does not defuse itself in optimism’ –

remember the flocked galahs at the Walls of China

the wrought change as they stilled their garrulous

pinks and greys to silence and faced the setting sun

the sun dyeing the clouds the same tonal flush

the galahs taking their own colour back into their

feathers            miracle of re-absorption not even

the night’s consuming indigo can rob them of –

continuity without loss?      the final room refuses

to close itself        as when in dreams some events

can only be viewed through feathered doors  1.

Creativity

Creative juices started up-welling when I read the words  “cerulean blue”. In Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013 this cool opaque blue of the sky ‘dome’ visually dissolved the outlines, apart from the dust in the air, of the Walls of China. This name refers to the long rows of dunes that characterise this place. Their colour is a shade of pink  caused by leaching from red soil. The Westerly wind-blown particles from the red soil of lunettes at the other side of Lake Mungo blow onto the dunes.  In the small painting below depiction of a haunting place has been a long time in coming.

Sykes, Patricia. 2004. "landishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech." In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29-30. Melbourne: Spinifex.

Book of poems by Patricia Sykes titled, Modewarre: Home Ground.

      

1.  Sykes, Patricia. 2004.blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech.” In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29 – 30. Melbourne: Spinifex.

Author: elainedesterre

I have been producing oil paintings, mixed media, prints (etching), digital prints and drawings for many years travelling to the Australian outback and overseas for inspiration and further education. My formal education consists of a PhD in painting and a BA in printmaking and my artwork is represented in public and private collections. My purpose and ongoing challenge is to create a gender-balanced and environment-focused iconography within the Western canon of European oil painting. These themes find expression within imagery about time, memory and identity as well as in geomorphology of evolutionary and environmental significance.

Comments are closed.