Here is a close up of one of these extraordinary creations
After this early morning walk I met a group of our first year Australian Literature students on the steps of the Art Gallery of NSW.
We went for a stroll around the Australian section of the gallery where we explored paintings that reflected the concerns of Alex Miller's Journey to the Stone Country. This was a fabulous time, drawing on the responses of a group of keen students eager to understand what it is about "landscape" that opens us up to our own experience of the world more deeply... and how "landscape" can in fact reflect the deeper questions asked by our novelists. Here are some of the images that drew the most interest and the longest discussions. Arthur Streeton's "Fire's On- Lapstone Tunnel"- if you want to see any of these paintings more closely click on the image thrice!
This was a perfect painting for illustrating the complex and contradictory responses to the landscape that we find in Journey to the Stone Country. On one side the powerful, beautiful, unspoilt, but harsh Australian bush; on the other side a descerated landscape in which one of the tunnelers has paid the ultimate price. Incidentally all those red dots filtering through the landscape- that we picked out in our close examination of the painting- are the Gymea Lilies which are so prevalent in the Blue Mountains. In case you don't know what they look like close up, here is one flowering in my own garden on the edge of Kuring-gai Chase:
Further on in the Gallery we looked at Fred McCubbin''s "On the Wallaby" with its sensitive depiction of settlers beginning to feel at home in a daunting landscape:
Then we also discovered this extraordinary pair of paintings in different rooms. There was the iconic 19th Century Australian painting Tom Robert's "Bailed Up" which celebrates a new vision of the Australian Bush - discovered through painting out of doors! and set against this, Fred Williams' painting "My Garden" in which he - around 70 years later- decides to pay homage to Robert's work by repainting it in a very different style. We found many ways of discussing how both these landscapes reflect the deepest themes of Journey to the Stone Country:
We then went past Judy Cassab's powerful paintings of the desert interior of Australia about which she speaks saying how much the colours and the shapes gave her a realization of the unique beauty and power of the Australian landscape (you can read her comments in the wall notes in the Gallery)
We finished up going down to the Aboriginal section of the gallery on the lower ground floor where we exchanged ideas about this "landscape" sculpture in which the Aboriginal artist Lin Onus shows how the Aboriginal spirit gets its own back on one of the more ugly icons of Western civilization in this country (the Hills Hoist):
After the gallery I couldn't resist a short walk around one of my favourite haunts in Sydney- the Botanic Gardens opposite. It was an absolutely sparkling day, the harbour was as magnificent as it would have been to the Aborigines living here before settlement; only now the icons of civilization are arched over the remnants of the original landscape...
And walking around these beautiful gardens one is greeted by these astonishing creations of civilization:
Of course it is the beginning of the tulip season in this our Sydney winter- and while I - with my English background- am stirred by these amazing human creations (tulips are the result of hundreds of years of careful genetic modification), I felt the strange sensation of having lived in two completely opposite worlds in the one day: the world of the ancient- untampered with- wild-flowers of the bush and here the flowers of a sophisticated civilization.... bridged today by this sojourn in the gallery where we witnessed artist after artist trying to take us imaginatively BACK to the origins of nature, back to the core, back to the essential... which is, one one level, exactly what Alex Miller is himself attempting to do in his wonderful novel.
PS- the full two hour recording of our conversation about these and other paintings in the gallery will be going up into Blackboard AFTER your Wednesday visit- so you will have the opportunity to listen in on a visit that had a little more leisure than the planned tours this coming Wednesday.