Thanks to all of you who responded to my invitation to comment on early drafts of the text for my catalogue of paintings; here’s another few words about a land that is far from ‘dead’, but is indeed very ‘red’, and orange.
… the striated surface of the landscape appears like a vast skin pulled taut in the foreground that ripples and wrinkles as the mountains rise out of the ground and recede into the distance.
For any painter trained in the northern hemisphere, nothing can prepare you for the impact of Australia’s Red Centre. Instead of the shifting cloudscapes under which I lived in England and Scotland, here around Alice Springs the light has an alarming intensity. Shadows look like they’ve been hewn from the rock. Their purple density is scored into the earth as if incised with a metallic blade.
Along the MacDonnell Ranges, the gorges beat with a heat that is of its own baking. Around the plunge pools and waterholes the rock pulsates with a flushed blood-orange glow. Shadows emit their own light. Everywhere there is a harsh and uncouth beauty. Clambering high above the creeks, up the steep, chossy rocks veined with shining quartz, I am immediately reminded of the sea; ‘a savage sea whose mighty swirling waves of ochre and dark olive streaked with white were curling over, and just about to break, when they were frozen into everlasting immobility.’
Several hundred miles further west, alert and indomitable, surfacing out of the flayed landscape is Uluru, an immense monolith of rusted rock, a supremely sacred place that defies conventional understanding. More than 1,100 feet in height and five miles round at the base it is almost beyond description in word or image. Under a piercing summer’s light, the Rock assumes the colour of dried blood, its surface pitted and pocked, streaked with black striations; its dents and caves speckled with hand-painted circles and outlines, proof that it is the temple of a living faith.
Nothing is as it seems. The immense scorched domes of Kata Tjuta some sixteen miles west of Uluru, are places of metamorphosis where ancient myth and legend is deeply embedded in every groove and chasm. Outwardly it seems to be an emptied place but that is not the case. Everything is named, every part is known intimately by the Anangu people who revere it as home to spirit energies from the ‘Dreaming’.
Stunned by the scale, the sizzle and the spectacle I take what shelter can be found, flick away the flies, and paint outward appearances, filling the crowded emptiness with layer upon layer of rusted orange and cobalt blue.
‘Australia is not a country from which a painter may easily learn’ wrote Cynthia Nolan in 1949, ‘for above all it is the changing colour of space which gives this empty land so intoxicating beauty.’