Country, landscape and memory/ Australian Art: Short Course session 1

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Country, landscape and memory/ Australian Art: Short Course session 1

I’m really excited to take you all on this journey and it’s a very large story with many many threads I myself have a really close connection to this Collection which I worked with for many years as Curator of Australian Art, before heading down the road to Griffith University and their art museum And when curators work closely with collections, they can sometimes seem like becoming members of our family in a way if that makes sense These are works that I go and say hello to every time I’m in the gallery and they give me solace and pleasure at different times of my life, they’ve always got something new to teach me So the re-hanging of these galleries a couple of years ago has seen the Collection allowed greater reign and room to move Out went those series of discrete rooms and the enfilade through the very middle of the space And the space was opened out with long sight lines and floating walls, actually as it was originally installed And now the challenge for me which is really interesting is that these galleries have hung very intentionally without one clear singular narrative, so that for me to present you with a kind of armature to talk about Australian art history requires us to look at singular works or small clusters of works in each room rather than some kind of a sweeping progressive chronological story Now our first lecture settles on the topic of land and landscape. I won’t always be chronological but I think it’s important to begin with you know something of a chronological beginning and how that might be interrupted at certain points Now the landscape has become the central motif of a very particular narrative of Australian art, but first before this idea of landscape, we have conceptions of land, or for indigenous people it’s often described as ‘country’ The term ‘country’ is often used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to describe their family origins and associations with particular parts of Australia. So this work by Judy Watson is the first work on the wall adjoining the Whale Mall, which is called sacred ground beating heart and it’s a kind of introduction to the hang, I think a very deliberate one Judy is a Waanyi woman whose people are from north-west Queensland and she’s based here in Brisbane This work is from 1989 and it’s made of unstretched canvas that has been stained by layers of wet and dry pigment creating this kind of velvety, sensual surface that you can see and you can see that it’s marked over the top by these delicate touches of colour and small motifs. I’m just going to see if I can zoom in a little bit on some of the detail that you can see here in the work. There we go, that worked There is actually an incredible short video by Judy on the Gallery’s YouTube channel which very much sums up her relationship to country, about memory and presence of feeling the connections with people who’ve been here before and the continuing presence of aboriginal people on their country As the label text describes, this imagery suggests an aerial perspective of parched land, a vague visualization of distant memory or the materialization of an emotion Judy’s work is perhaps in conversation with several kinds of different art traditions that look at aerial perspectives and map-like renderings of land but her visual language is very much all her own and very distinct and contemporary It’s important at this stage to remember that aboriginal painting represents at least 99% of the timeline of Australian art making with a verified history dating back tens of thousands of years Thousands of rock galleries throughout the landscape carry the signs of such making throughout the continent. And of course this is the important aspect of the collection hang is the incorporation of contemporary artworks These are often used as insertions of narratives that might be alternative to the ones that are being portrayed in the works around them or as extensions of them. Now Australia was settled on the basis of, as we know, terra nullius I’m just trying to move through my slide, there we go. You might not think that this you know kind of a legal term has much to do with our art history but it does, it keeps coming back to this, I think, it haunts the narrative as you might say and certainly seems to mean that we

cannot move away from conceptions of landscape in terms of considering Australian art in terms of, you know, to look back in terms of the very formal artistic genres established in the 17th century, in the French academy, if we’re looking at the European tradition – the genres were ascribed in a kind of hierarchy Number one at the top was history painting, number two portraiture, three genre painting and fourth is actually the landscape and then fifth right down the bottom are still lifes and interiors but we can see that within the history of Australian art the genre of landscape is undoubtedly very much to the top of our our concerns So this work by Guan Wei is quite close to the Judy Watson work and is a very recent addition to the hang. Previously there was a big installation by Dale Harding which was along that wall which alluded to the history of rock art painting in Australia. But this work is a really interesting inclusion. It’s called echo from 2005 and it’s a contemporary history painting about some of our most complex and troubling contemporary issues, migration, conquest, reconciliation, and even Australia’s status as a place of refuge Guan Wei was born in Beijing in 1957 and was a school teacher there. He then in the late 80s came to Australia as a visiting artist at the University of Tasmania and did a residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art and now divides his time between Australia and China. In this work Guan Wei has reconstructed and grafted images onto a very famous Chinese landscape painting Jiu Ri Shi Cheng Tu Juan by Wang Yuanqi from 1641 to 1715 And in doing so he juxtaposes, as I was talking about, that grand genre of European history painting of the 17th to 19th centuries with the equivalent aesthetic achievement of China during the same period While China had become culturally introspective at that time, Europe was aggressively expanding into other cultures through exploration and colonialism Now we see this muted palette that Guan has used, suggesting you know kind of aging historical documents but also he’s drawing our attention to more contemporary insertions into the painting like those telescopic weapon sites that we can see suggesting of viewfinders and other kind of aids from computer imagery Now if we look carefully at the bottom right hand corner, I want to point out a particular part of this picture, it’s this section here that he’s very deliberately included in this work. You can see very carefully here, this is a figure of Cook landing This image is a really famous image that’s been appropriated again and again through the history of Australian art and I want to show you a couple of examples of how our history keeps inflecting the present So here is the picture that that work, that particular group of imagery is related to. This is E. Phillips Fox’s The landing of captain cook at botany bay, 1770 so the painting is dated 1902 which of course is a year after federation and this work was commissioned in order to celebrate the federation of Australia. Fox actually didn’t paint it in Australia, he went to London to paint it which is one of those great ironies and you can see him portraying Cook as restraining his men from shooting these distantly pictured aboriginal people. This was the empire as it wished to be seen, peaceful, British, white and triumphant But we all know that the real story really didn’t happen in that way. This painting is now in the National Gallery of Victoria’s Collection. It’s actually not a great picture, you don’t often actually see it on display, it caused Phillips Fox a huge amount of grief in terms of trying to construct the work and trying to summarize this moment within a particular painting. But what’s interesting is that more recently, so many contemporary

artists have appropriated the work. So this is a work by Daniel Boyd from 2006 in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Collection He’s portrayed cook as a pirate, he’s playing with this kind of sense of flattery of the self-imagining of the Australian beginnings by talking about it in terms of piracy and possession He’s got an eye patch, skull and crossbones and behind him we can see these figures following him. What’s interesting also is he’s replaced the aboriginal figures with xanthorrhoea trees which is also playing on that terrible colloquial name of those trees as black boys, which is not used in common parlance anymore but is certainly part of this particular history. Now even more recently, Vincent Namajira has appropriated that image of Cook with his hand outstretched and made it into a plywood sculpture and painted his own image on the back of it in a kind of gesture of reclamation So this work Close contact, you can see Vincent standing here with his work, it won the Ramsey Art Prize at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2019 So this is to give you a sense of how much the past can inflict the present within contemporary artworks and that’s a very distinct example of that So to move more to the early years of Queensland as we now know it, the Queensland Art Gallery’s Collection is actually already in a really interesting way an alternative reading of Australian art history. Firstly there are no First Fleet works in Queensland Art Gallery’s Collection or many works by the major early colonial artists within the colonies in Sydney and in Melbourne. This is due to the very particular history of Queensland which was not settled by non-indigenous people until the 1820s really and not being a state at all until federation in 1901 An interesting fact is that the Gallery was actually established by Queensland artists Isaac Walter Jenner and R. Godfrey Rivers. These aren’t the kind of captains of industry or the establishment at the time, but they were a group of artists who were keen to educate and enliven the community and many of whom actually gifted works to start the collection The gallery’s – actually its first purchase, and I don’t have an image of it here – was not an Australian landscape or by an Australian artist It was a British artist’s work and that’s Blandford Eletcher’s Evicted Many of you would know this picture, it’s from 1887 and was exhibited in the Hobart international exhibition in 1995 It’s a narrative painting of a mother and child being evicted, very Dickensian and full of human drama It’s also a typical example of the nature of the collecting practices of the time Unfortunately the idea that art was from elsewhere, you know from England and Europe, and it was a more an important priority to educate the people of Queensland rather than works by its own artists or depicting this culture and community I mean it’s also amazing to think that the gallery itself didn’t even have a proper home until the construction of the Cultural Centre in 1982, that before that it was held in the Old Museum building and various kind of corporate buildings around the city So to move to this early Queensland work, this is the Panorama of Brisbane by J. A Clarke. This is one of the major colonial paintings of Queensland and Clarke’s best-known work It’s really large, it’s 12 by 4 feet, 3.6 by 1.2 meters and was commissioned for the Queensland Court in the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition and then it was acquired by the Queensland Museum. So it was a prominent exhibit in the Old Museum’s building but it’s now on long-term loan to the Queensland Art Gallery And you know very few of Clarke’s works have survived, he was one of the people who initiated art classes at the Brisbane School of Arts teaching drawing and design, holding a ladies class for watercolour painting and was a keen advocate of technical

education in Brisbane And really he was involved when the Brisbane Central Technical College was established which is a precursor institution for what is now the Queensland College of Art You can see that this is a – it’s almost a kind of naive depiction of the early colony of Brisbane, this of course is looking over Kangaroo Point, now the Story Bridge would create a very enormous arc and block out most of that view these days But we can see some of the early wharves, the parliament, the Old Government House and the parliament up near the Botanic Gardens, the oldest extant building, the windmill which is up on the hill here as well, so it’s very much a kind of documentary depiction of the very early Brisbane So the next work – this is a very small work actually, it’s 25 by 46 centimetres so very different in scale This is by Isaac Walter Jenner’s Queensland natives at the Currigee Oyster Company’s Station, Stradbroke Island, Moreton Bay 1897 So Jenner arrived in Brisbane in 1883, he was a founder member of the Queensland Arts Society and one of those artists who lobbied consistently for the establishment of the Gallery. Now this work is an image of life on Stradbroke Island or Minjerribah at the turn of the century We’ve got in the foreground the group of people on the raft who are harvesting oysters whilst we have also a group of aboriginal figures who are kind of silhouetted along the shoreline here. The inclusion of aboriginal people was actually quite rare for colonial painters in Brisbane, along with the men on the raft who are here working. There’s a sense of ease and alignment within the landscape of living alongside each other which was actually not all the case especially in the state of Queensland The frontier wars were fought Very, very seriously in many areas of Queensland but the long history of oyster harvesting in Moreton Bay has originated with the traditional custodians, the Quandamooka people There are huge shell middens found on the bay side of the island which is local artist Megan Cope’s traditional country But nowadays they’re only very small remnants of the originals From the first arrival till the 19th century, the reefs were dredged and the middens were burnt for lime, which was used in the construction of many of the colonial era buildings and it’s been noted that the burning of these middens, the destroying of them has destroyed those key markers of Quandamooka occupancy and reinforced that myth of terra nullius So Currigee was part of the Moreton Bay Oyster Company operating from the 1870s to the 1950s which actually also drew upon the expertise of the Quandamooka people and throughout the 19th century, distributed oysters throughout Australia Quite nearby to this work is this amazing contemporary woven fish traps which can also suggest the importance of fishing to local peoples. Here we have Oscar and Edward Friström who are also very prominent artists in those early years in Queensland and Brisbane. They immigrated to Australia from Sweden in 1888 and settled in Manly They were self-taught artists and instrumental in establishing the Queensland Art Society Their main business was actually colouring and over-painting photographic portraits with the photographer D. H Hutchinson and these images here are likely to be based on photographs, showing that interaction between photography, the documentary and art during this period. These portraits you can see are actually quite stylized, quite stiff and posed, and come from, yes of course, an ethnographic kind of tradition We can see that in the titles of these works there is no mention of these people’s names and any kind of individual characteristics and might tell us who they were or where they were from. Unfortunately this kind of attitude and treating

Indigenous people as ‘types’ within this kind of documentation was of course one that continued for a very long time and often contributing to this sense of a culture in decline So alongside those two portraits is this very interesting portrait of Amehnam by the artist Tom Roberts which we might talk about a little bit later as well in context Now this is about the point in where in other state galleries, you might come across a display of very grand paintings of the later colonial period I’m thinking of those majestic classic Eugene von Guerards, the Glovers, the Buvelots that we can see in Collections like the NGV and the NGA but also Ballarat and Bendigo galleries in regional Victoria But of course these aren’t to be found here in this particular Collection due to that very distinct way that Queensland was developed. There are a few gems of the early colonial period such as the watercolours by Conrad Martens of the Darling Downs from his trip through there in the 1850s, where he documented the properties of the already wealthy squatters who’d settled there only a few decades earlier, but these are actually very fragile works on paper and are not always on display Instead we have this group of works to represent the early colonial period of Australian landscape painting On the left here we have two works by Eugene von Guerard, A view from Mount Franklin towards Mount Kooroocheang and the Pyrenees in a circa 1864. And this is where we can see actually the morning sun is striking the slopes of Hepburn Hill which is near Dalesford, Mount Franklin – as in the Mount Franklin water, well I don’t think they draw the water just from this particular source anymore but that’s certainly what it’s named after And below it is von Guerard’s Mr John King’s Station from 1861 This isn’t actually in the Collection but it’s on loan from the Taylor Family Collection. Now this is the Snakes Ridge property in Gippsland, an area that’s now known as Rosedale Von Guerard was invited to do a property portrait of this area, you know a kind of a house portrait of that time, very much a genre of that period where artists were invited to you know basically paint a very grand looking picture of what this farmer had achieved in terms of their house But of course in this picture, the homestead isn’t there, we’re actually looking from an elevated viewpoint, probably from the homestead over the beautiful grassy plain dotted with cattle This is as you know also very interestingly long horizontal canvas and very, very symmetrical We often see in these early colonial era landscapes depictions of Indigenous people often as a bit of you know foreground interest, to give a sense of scale with an almost kind of decorative quality but this picture isn’t that. It has a very clear fore, middle and background, but the figures of the Indigenous people are front and centre in the foreground almost like a family portrait but as we know from von Guerard’s notes and sketches in the preparation of painting this work, this particular group of people were actually compiled from separate sketches so we very carefully kind of put together this little scene, this vignette What’s also interesting is that they are in shadow, we can’t really pick up their facial features or much distinguishing features about them They are depicted as both on their land but also dispossessed of it and now subject in a way to the figures of the farmer, so we can see the farmer here in the middle ground, his actual back is turned towards us and he’s supervising this farm worker, I think that they’re tending to some roses within the garden you know I just think it’s very interesting to think about this work This the figure here is wearing a possum skin cloak whereas these two other figures are actually wearing kind of European style blankets, he’s holding implements, a sphere and some implements here and also has cockatoo feathers as a headdress, so it’s a very interesting and mysterious, very deliberate work by von Guerard where it’s deeply kind of mysterious to us

Artists were often concerned with topographical accuracy and von Guerard was absolutely one of those You could guarantee that that horizon here is incredibly accurate in its depictions of the mountains and the landscapes but the construction of this picture is suggested that von Guerard’s got other things on his mind as well in terms of thinking about the presence ofIndigenous people in these landscapes and the kind of structures that have led to this dispossession. So moving on in terms of this group of works, here is W. C Piguenit’s Valley of the Grose. Piguenit was the son of a convict, born in Hobart and is best known for very evocative New South Wales landscapes such as this area of Grose Valley in the foothills of the Blue Mountains On the top of the group is this very interesting picture, another very interesting picture by Tom Roberts which is called Indigenous Gathering, Far North Queensland Now in 1892 Tom Roberts set sail from Sydney for Far North Queensland The journey appealed to him because he had quite an interest in anthropology and during the trip he painted several portrait studies of Indigenous people with a degree of sensitivity that was uncommon for the time. So if I just flick back to this portrait of Armhnam, so he’s actually identified, this gentleman and given him a name and said where he was from, which is actually quite unusual for the time So this painting is of a group of Indigenous people in their country that was most likely painted on Mer or Murray Island in the Torres Strait. Mer is famous of course for being the birthplace of Eddie Koiki Mabo, who paved the way for the recognition of native title in Australian law And painting en plein air as Roberts did, which means out in the landscape, he’s depicting these particularly qualities of light, heat, space and distance and tropical areas in this case. Roberts of course was one of the Australian Impressionists. He was born in England, travelled to Melbourne, returned to London, studied at the Royal Academy and absorbed some of those French Impressionist idealism as well as the work of the American painter James Abbott McNeil Whistler, then returned to Australia, pioneered plein air painting with this group of artists called Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder – we all know these names as well as staging this very famous exhibition The 9 by 5 Impressionism Exhibition. We might talk about this in the second week a bit in terms of the kind of arrival of modernity to Australia but this painting has always intrigued me you know it’s painted a few years later, this is after the kind of initial flush of the popularization of the Heidelberg School It was originally titled Corroboree which is actually a misnomer because Corroboree the word is a word from the Sydney Darug language and then as happened, it got applied all over Australia to any kind of ceremonial gathering of Indigenous people. In Roberts’s diaries and in the series of articles he published at the time in The Argus, he goes into detail about the vivid performances that he witnessed and also an islander wedding in the Torres Strait but this scene is in daylight and shows no dances. All we can see are the kind of backs of people who might be watching a performance in the shadow of the foliage that we can see there and as the sunlight kind of spreads around, it looks like it’s in the middle of the day in fact It’s a curious picture in terms of the way that he so vividly described these performances He’s actually chosen not to depict one within this work and there’s a sense of – with the figures in that background with their backs towards us that perhaps you know the performance – it leaves a lot to our imaginations and to imagine what’s going on you know Is it a secret um ceremonial business from which Roberts has been excluded or does he feel that it’s simply not appropriate for him to be depicting the ceremony

in this way? It’s just a very intriguing picture for so many reasons Okay oh now I also wanted to point out with this work is the credit line. I’m such a nerd, I always like looking at credit lines Gift of the Foster’s Group Limited through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation in 2006 Now isn’t that interesting, the Foster’s Art Collection was one of those really big corporate art collections that were broken up in the late 90s and early 2000s and it’s wonderful that that work has now made its home at the Queensland Art Gallery So moving along, this is the other great Queensland colonial painting. We saw the J. A. Clarke a little earlier, that very big grand work, and this is by a woman artist and it’s actually of North Queensland, it’s Baron Falls by Winifred Rumney. So she painted this picture in the early part of the 20th century, of course 1906, capturing these falls in minute detail. This very large – well it’s 128 centimetres tall, it’s quite large, it’s not enormous – but it’s a very powerful landscape painting and reflects on I think we can see 19th century Romanticism while also pointing towards you know much earlier 18th century fascination with the sublime and the power of the forces of nature Baron Gorge National Park is a World Heritage area near Cairns and part of the Djabugandji Bama people who maintain a very close spiritual connection to this country These falls can be viewed from the Historic Scenic Railway Line now which cuts through the park between Cairns and Coranda. Now Winifred Rumney was the daughter of a Scottish Surgeon Colonel R .J. Cornell. She studied in London and married a Thomas Rumney who was from Tasmania and moved to Queensland where she taught at the Sandgate Ladies College from 1890 to 1892 She then lived in Rockhampton and then in Cairns, taught painting at Cairns Technical College, but we know very little about her as you can see on this label we only have circa dates for her birth and death and after some searching on Trove which is that incredible resource of newspapers and historical material online, I found some you know actually pretty grisly details of her husband committing suicide in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in 1912 So a lot of information but very little about Winifred herself, her art career, where she might have even ended up after that tragic incident, she moved back to Tasmania and we kind of lose track of her from about 1919. But I do love this painting it’s got such a strange kind of stylized look about it You know the water is the opposite of the kind of mistiness and the evocativeness of the Piguenit that we looked at a little bit earlier, but each element of this work is so carefully described in a very precise manner but I do hope that like many historical women artists within Australian art history, we might one day be able to complete the picture of Winifred Rumney’s life and art and know a little bit more about her than just this one singular painting that we have left Okay so moving on to Sydney Long the Spirit of the Plains. Now Okay, this is a very well-known work After well over a century, Spirit of the Plains remains one of the great beauties of Australian art history Here we can see a girl on a flute leading her captivated brolgas in this elegant dance across a moonlit plane There is a mood of you know kind of twilight magic created by these very interesting tonal relationships of greys, blues, pinks and pastely kind of colours As Joanna Mendelssohn writes in the NGA’s 2012 catalogue, “on the face of it this is a very odd painting actually to emerge from the antipodean colonies in the final years of the 19th century.” Long was at this time he was 26 and he’d

never travelled outside of New South Wales. This painting was sent to London, it was exhibited at the Grafton Galleries in 1898 and reproduced in The Studio, which was the leading English art magazine of the time This work made Long’s reputation And this populating of the Australian bush with nymphs and gods, you know around this time with Long and his colleagues, served to develop a kind of mythology of this burgeoning nation on its way to federation As opposed to many traditional views of the landscape which depicted it as a side of industry or as we saw you know majesty or the sublime, Long’s created a very lyrical poetic vision inspired by European art nouveau, you know these flat decorative shapes and the figures of these trees look incredibly art nouveau But this was, believe it or not, it was a very modern kind of work of its time, he’s turned those trees into some kind of decorative frieze and arranged the figures of the brolgas and the girl quite flatly across the front, as though they’re on a kind of theatre stage Now brolgas of course are a wetland bird found in northern Australia, known for their elaborate mating dance Do you think long ever saw a brolga if he’d never been outside of New South Wales? I’m not sure and I suppose that you know the much bigger question is also in the creation of this spiritual moving and musical depiction of the Australian landscape You know it’s very interesting to include this kind of figure from mythology where one could draw upon you know the original inhabitants of this particular country who have their own incredibly spiritual and moving and indeed musical and performative practice themselves A few years later Long would actually represent an aboriginal figure in this kind of symbolic art nouveau way, so I think he must have in some ways kind of asked himself these questions but not quite getting to the point of really engaging with aboriginal culture but just as a kind of decorative figure. Now what’s also interesting to look at when we see this work is the credit line again, Gift of William Howard Smith in memory of his grandfather Ormond Charles Smith, 1940 This of course is the family of the Howard Smith shipping and industrial Company. Many of you who are here in Brisbane right now know the Howard Smith Wharves which is now this kind of public space which is just down the road from where I’m sitting here talking to you now Let’s move on to another well-loved image within our Collection, Under the jacaranda of 1903 This, as many of you know, is the first jacaranda tree that was grown in Australia, planted in 1864 by Walter Hill with an assortment of seeds and plants brought back from Brazil The gardens have had only been just established a few years earlier on this point called Gardens Point and today of course this species is a Brisbane Icon, with jacaranda trees growing in almost every suburb and actually many of the very older trees that you see are descended from the seed of that very first jacaranda It might be considered in a way this is the quintessential image of Brisbane I think that we can see here that Rivers has looked really closely at the Heidelberg school and this profusion of blossoms, you know, that’s almost half of the picture is that top half of the picture, is just an explosion of that beautiful purple blossom here. But you know there’s a time lag here, Robert, Streeton and Conder had by this time well and truly gone their separate ways But here we see this couple is dressed very fashionably, taking tea and enjoying themselves in the landscape, that red parasol is of course very fashionable and the woman is in fact Rivers’s new wife Selena Bell Here they are embodying the kind of respectability and gentility that Brisbane society was aspiring to as its newly federated status. Queensland had only just become a separate colony to New South Wales in 1859, there were issues and competing interests in terms of different industries, even different centres of course vying for the position of becoming the state capital of Queensland Queensland itself only voted very

narrowly in favour of federation and I mean other notable events around this time include the first branch meeting of the Australian Labour Party held by striking shearers under the gum tree now known as the Tree of Knowledge in Barcalden and in Queensland in 1891 And in 1897 the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was passed, authorising the removal of aboriginal people to reserves These powers of removal continued until 1971 when the act was amended But back to the painting, this becomes the best loved and most kind of iconically Queensland image but of course you know in the first of many ironies that we will see relating to the history of Australian art, the jacaranda isn’t a native tree but introduced from South America So interesting. Now just to move quickly, this is a group of expatriate artists, John Russell, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, who we’re working in France and Europe in those early years of the 20th century. We might just move on quite quickly now to a bit of a leap actually, this is Sydney Nolan’s Mrs Fraser that I want to talk about next. She’s currently hanging on this wall with a group of other works relating to the Fraser Island series that Nolan did and then return to later and then this interesting amazing group of works by bachelor artist Fiona Foley whose traditional lands is K’gari or Fraser Island. Now this work also in a really interesting way relates to the myth-making of Queensland history and the foundational kind of Australian national narratives. In 1947 Nolan had gone to Queensland ostensibly trying to find out what had happened to his brother who died in mysterious circumstances but really he’s actually pining over a broken heart from Sunday Reed. So he’s in the State Library and reading about the wreck of the Sterling Castle and the story of Mrs Fraser in 1836, surviving on the island with the help of the indigenous people of K’gari. These motifs seem perfect for Nolan, this is a brutal landscape and then there’s human drama, you know, violence, crime It’s going to make for some striking Images Now Nolan’s work of the 1940s features a pretty singular theme in a recurrent trope and that’s the outsider set against an environment which resists occupation. The artist explores these ideas in famous series which deal with historical characters given mythic status by the cultural claims made on their behalf And of course this includes the outlaw Ned Kelly, the failed explorers Burke and Wills, and as the story goes, the amoral, unreliable widow Eliza Fraser So Nolan’s initial group of paintings on the adventures of Eliza Fraser were first exhibited at the Moreton Galleries in Brisbane in February 1948. Only two works sold but this work stayed with the artist and came to the Gallery only actually after he had died from his estate Let’s have a close look at the work, it’s actually quite violent, I find it it’s pretty grisly, it’s abstracted, but she’s a group of shapes, you know, she’s faceless, she’s crouched down, submissive, the landscape kind of rears up around her. She’s also encircled here by a tondo, which is that word for a circular form which is almost kind of offered to the spectator as if through a photographic lens, or as Jane Clark has suggested, ‘down the barrel of a gun’ Now Nolan in 1950 leaves for England and in 1957 he’s recognised with a retrospective at London’s White Chapel Gallery This work is the centre of the show. By this time though he’s made a few adjustments to the work, he lowers the horizon, adds the actual the circular tondo form and substantially alters the painting The reasons why are the subject of much conjecture but Nancy Underhill sees that this this has a lot to do with Nolan’s own myth making This White Chapel exhibition is his arrival in Britain, he’s making it big, really none of the Ned Kelly pictures also are available for him to include in this big show, they’re being held at ransom by Sunday and John Reed by now

and so he’s got to really kind of make a show that’s going to impress people and that is exactly what this show does So if we think about who else are the major artists in London at this time, well it’s Francis Bacon, so this sense of attenuated bodies, of distortions and violence, this abstraction of the body There is a kind of interesting concurrence there with Francis Bacon’s work and of course Lucian Freud is the other great artist who’s is kind of coming to prominence within this period But it’s also really interestingly a very appreciative time for Australian artists in Britain through several shows that were held at that time and artists who were spending time there. So like his constant return to Ned Kelly as a subject that Nolan keeps coming back to Kelly, he also returns to the Fraser legend and for a further two series, one in the mid-50s and in the early-60s, this work that we see here in the centre is Mrs Fraser and convict and it was used as the cover image for Patrick White’s acclaimed historical adaptation of the story called A fringe of leaves Okay so how are we going for time? I think that we might go for one or two more works before we turn to some questions and then a discussion with Ryan Presley So just to keep moving a little bit more through for the last five minutes, I just wanted to show you Arthur Boyd’s Sleeping bride So this is a very recent acquisition into the Collection, a gift of Paul Taylor in 2016. So this is from one of Boyd’s most important allegorical series entitled Love, marriage and death of a half-caste, otherwise known as the Brides series This was a result of Boyd’s own travels through central Australia and in 1953, it’s considered one of the most significant achievements in Australian modernism akin to Nolan’s Ned Kelly paintings from the 1940s. And these are really – this series is stark in its representation of a mixed race bride and groom, painted in the years you know during the assimilation policy of the Australian Government and the stolen generations, which saw children of mixed race removed from their homes. But as we can see there’s also this in the same vein as Nolan a reign of figures and human drama, but always within the landscape As we can also see in these wonderful works by Russell Drysdale Man feeding dogs and Back verandah, both from the early 1940s Now as far as romanticism and mythology of the Australian landscape and kind of iconic images that are brought to your mind when you think of the word outback, Drysdale of course and even these two particular paintings in particular are top of mind. Drysdale of course had attended the George Bell school in Melbourne where he was introduced to the European modern masters He also travelled to Europe to study the originals and his heroes Bell was the ideal teacher for Drysdale and gave him a deep understanding you know of the structural material design aspects of painting. These are very carefully constructed works Drysdale’s most powerful landscapes will all often or almost always have a human presence and Sydney Nolan actually described Drysdale as ‘the most genuinely Australian of all of us’. The landscape in these cases particularly with Man feeding dogs becomes a kind of theatre arrayed with his characters We can see here harshness remoteness and Isolation, which has come from some travel that he did in the 1940s where he was commissioned to go to New South Wales, which was drought ravaged at that time and he did some of his most iconic images during that period, looking at the old gold mining town of Hill End and Safala He rapidly became a household name in Australia and Man feeding his dogs is just such a melancholy image, this stretched out character feeding his greyhounds and Back verandah on the right is also

just as evocative and has in itself become the source image of many other reinterpretations by more contemporary Australian artists, such as Tracy Moffatt’s iconic Something more series I don’t have a slide of that work here, it’s also in the Gallery’s Collection, but it’s a photograph of a woman in a cheongsam looking wistfully into the distance in that foreground, standing in for this – well she’s actually standing in for this figure of the boy with these two with two colourful characters sitting on a veranda in the background. I mean, I really recommend you to look it up, it’s pretty easy image to find So what we might finish on today is this modernist landscape – let’s start moving into modernism – which actually was made at the same time as the Drysdales but was a, as you can see, it’s a very different tenor of work Dorrit Black was born in Adelaide in 1891 She trained in South Australia at the School of Art and Crafts, went to London, spent three months at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art where she learnt Claud Flight’s approach to colour lino cut printing. This is an incredible school of modernist print making, please look it up, it’s all these incredible angular lines and suggestion of speed and dynamism and modern life. The next year she studied at Andre Lohte’s academy in Paris and at his summer school, and then worked briefly with Albert Gleizes in 1929. She was now a disciple of Cubism and it’s a very late kind of Cubism and she returns to Sydney late that year and exhibits with a group of artists that include Roy de Maistre, Roland Wakelin and her close friend Grace Crowley These are the champions of modernism in Australia In 1931-33 she established the Modern Arts centre in Margaret street in Sydney, travels overseas again this time with her ailing mother in 1934 and 35 and then settles in Adelaide. She has to leave Sydney which is the centre of art making and modernism at the time because she has to care for her family These family obligations have had such an effect on so many women’s artistic careers But she builds herself a home studio, determined to keep working in the suburb of McGill and got involved in the local art world Now here’s a wonderful quote from the Art Gallery of South Australia’s 2014 catalogue by Tracy Lock-Weir describing this work: “the anthropomorphic swelling curves of these works may be an extension of a career-long commitment to life drawing. Each rolling hill and valley could be the outline of a torso, hip or upper thigh. Equally each landscape might breathe and move. We sense that the artist has fully immersed herself in the land depicted in her landscape, her spiritual absorption is complete and she is one with the earth.” So isn’t that a wonderful passage, describing this very evocative landscape Lock-Weir – it was also in this passage describing an amazing work called The olive plantation which is in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Collection, it’s a couple of years older, it’s 1946 and so I recommend you also look up that picture for a treat. Also Black came to Queensland in the mid-1940s and made a series of the most amazing prints from an aerial perspective, so she was flying over pineapple plantations and mountains and if you can look up that particular series of prints, I just think they’re some of the most amazing images and also an example of the ways that artists, as technology changes the way our viewpoints upon the world as in being able to look down from an aeroplane, artists will take those new images and make them their own Hi Angela, hey everybody. Hi Ryan, great to see you, I’m just going to quickly flick through some of these millions of slides, actually what I would like to stop on is this part of the Collection display which shows your works integrated within the Collection hang. So this is a little installation shot everyone of Ryan’s works here. They are juxtaposed with this table which is a really interesting kind of placement I think, and I have some information on this work – do you

mind if I give a bit of background to that one, Ryan? Sure. It’s a display table by Joseph Soblusky, this is an incredible inlaid tilt-top table from the 1890s. So the artist has used Queensland timbers and constructed this table to demonstrate the different qualities of these timbers It was made for an exhibition, as in those big exhibitions which would demonstrate the kind of wealth of the colonies and the the incredible resources that were to be found in the colonies which would then be – it’s an advertisement really for resources that could then be exploited, which is kind of really interesting in terms of thinking about your work Ryan. But what I think I we might do is kind of start at the beginning a bit in terms of your practice Ryan So with this work which is how I got to know your work, maybe you could tell us a little bit about the Blood money series and the genesis of this particular series of works. Yeah so these are large-scale watercolour paintings that I’ve reworked Australian banknotes, particularly the patinations and elements of the layout design and working in a lot of frontier sort of heroes in place of the people that are shown on the notes circulated today So this figure here replacing Sir Joe Monash on the 100 bill, a high-ranking member of the Australian army, Ithink they were called the Australian Imperial Army at that point in time and elements of that note had like cavalry and cannons and that sort of thing on the bill now that you can look at with a sort of vacant enemy because the enemy of course always changes and that as the most prestigious level of of our society, who gets the hundred dollar note you know So I’ve taken those sort of ideas and put into this work with Dundalli a person who’s local to the northern region, to the north of Brisbane and was sort of reputed as like someone who’s against the encroach of colonial expansion and that fought against that but had this really sort of detailed, like interesting details to his life as well as someone has high social standing within the area because of the Bunion festivals that would happen to the north of Brisbane and he was someone that was an overseer of those sort of festivals and was responsible for maintaining the fabric of their traditions and society. So with the massacres and things that happened that happened a lot due to seeking out the resources that you were talking about earlier, he’s someone that oversaw like punishments in retaliation to those massacres and violence Yeah it’s a long life story and so elements of those are put in so the burning – what’s it called – station, it has a little sign saying Kilcoy, referencing the Kilcoy massacre that Dundalli was part of the response to, and the killing of the stockman that were responsible for that Yeah so really looking at money and looking at them as tokens of concepts because money is a conceptual cultural item, you have to have a belief in it for it to be maintained within a society to have value So looking at those ideas and looking at histories and how money is the quantifier for resources, it’s the direct thing that is representative of aboriginal dispossession So looking at people who fought against

that and maintained as best they could against those really adverse situations. So presenting Dundalli as a as a hero? Yeah exactly, because he was publicly executed and before that was like really – there was like a fever pitch within that colonial media at the time and society to want to kill him and was of course forced through their sort of hodgepodge court system, without evidence, as to what he was actually being charged with and then gruesomely publicly murdered as well Yeah so looking at it and instead of focusing on those gore details, looking at elements of what he stood for in his life and it’s my interpretation of that and elements within his life that are remarkable. So you made this work while you were still a student, Ryan, you were still studying at the time? So I made the initial work this is the more recent version. Oh you’ve had a couple of iterations of – ? Yeah a few of them I reworked over time, after I sort of got better at them and learnt more about the people over the years. It’s been about 10 years I’ve been working on them and the first one was the Dundalli work, the original that Griffith have now are things like learning about like the hair he had which was a major impact to his story, that the long dreadlocks was something as culturally significant to his people and what played a part in his – he was ambushed working in the Fortitude Valley region, felling trees for a more friendly colonial settler, he was ambushed and grabbed by his hair and arrested and then his hair was cut as like a public humiliation sort of thing during his imprisonment. And so the the court – there’s a really poor court drawing of him that really has very little of what I would describe as any sort of human likeness, it’s a very poor quality drawing and it shows him with the short hair So there’s no key historical documents that have been useful in terms of constructing this image, you’ve had to reconstruct this image of Dundalli in a way? Yeah there’s only a very sort of vague like – he was really tall and athletic with long dreadlocks, there’s not a whole lot to go on to make a detailed portrait to get a sort of idea of him, but there’s no like direct photograph or something like that yeah Yeah, fascinating thinking about these ideas of exchange and resources, you know, printing, of working with currency and money in a very particularly kind of conceptual way And that relates to – oh well here’s an installation shot of the whole series of works that you extended into doing with other prominent aboriginal people as heroes upon banknotes that were shown in the IMA But I am keen to move on to also some of those same ideas that you see within this series of works – perhaps you could take us through the genesis of For what it’s worth Ryan? Yep So I was lucky to have a residency at the Tweed Regional Gallery artist space, artist sort of cabin they have there So I was looking with those sort of ideas in mind and with getting to know the local sort of histories and situations that have happened there and finding I was really interested particularly about the red cedar and the use of that resource because it had a really fundamental role in the violence within that colonial system there and it was sought out, it was a very important tree

to the local people, it had dendroglyph sort of carvings and things in it because it’s a softer type of wood and it has vibrant sort of red tones to it and as colonials came up the coast, they saw it as a furniture and sort of ornament wood for housing and that sort of thing and basically led to a lot of the initial massacres and things within the Tweed Region and similar things to what was happening to Dundalli at a similar point in time and over time Aboriginal people were forced into harvesting as labour source, harvesting these trees, through the sawyers and the timber cutters and then as industrialization increased, the whole forest would just be ravaged, just like torn out, burnt through, just to get young saplings of these trees because all the trees were decimated, the logs were really buoyant so we floated out and then sent them off to Britain and basically what you have in Tweed is a landscape void of these ecosystems being fundamentally changed and of course red cedar being extinct functionally extinct for that area. So I wanted to sort of use source transfer some of those woods, and I was able to find some that have been rejected from Britain, sent back to Mullumbimbi, and then yeah sort of create imagery relating to those histories with encore sticks and oil painting with wax And so some of the iconography that you’ve used, Ryan, you’ve got such a precise kind of style in terms of every element of your works is so very particularly rendered – what are some of these – can you talk us through some of the very particular significant images that we see within these works? Yes so the diamond shape within the two panels is taken from the Crown Lands Alienation Act and the Free Selection Act within the 1860s, and that basically led to the full dispossession of land that aboriginal people within that area had been able to hold on to, because they just opened it up to pastoralism and all that sort of resource exploitation. So it was taken from that logo at the top of the legislation and I’ve put in religious elements with people forced into sort of missions, religious missions And then elements of that labour as well with the the two-person saw within the middle panel, and then after those trees were fully extinguished from over harvesting, then they’ll have large presence of plantations, sugarcane, and in the gilded parts on the border and the sugarcane knife within the saw. And because they recycled – strangely they would decimate landscapes but then recycle tools, so machetes were made out of the old timber saws Yeah and then just elements of like the old rations, the sugar rations, imperial sugar is the brand with the crown at the top of the diamond that I’ve used and these really citrine, healthy, sweet-looking bananas as part of that indentured type labour force So Ryan, the style that you’ve used and I’m looking here at the medium description, you’ve used oil, lapis lazuli and 23 carat gold leaf on the panels of cedar –

you know these are the tools of historical religious painting Is that very deliberate? Yeah so this is the offshoot from other work I’ve been working on for the past seven years or so, using religious works and icons and that sort of canon And like I mentioned with the – once the violence sort of subsided or as a retreat from the violence, people would resort more to sanctuary within church missions and then would of course have to face that sort of psychological presence of having to assimilate or a level of assimilation within that church doctrine. So I use those sort of elements and sort of history as well as blending with these signs and symbols. Because the Latin is a translation of a biblical part in Romans, for we are more than conquerors through his love or god’s love. So really blessing the violence or making people like a righteous violence within colonialism So I wonder if we have a work – here we go, this is a a work that also extends in that kind of vein, Ryan, of using these very established iconographical traditions to show contemporary subjects. Maybe you could talk us through the iconography of this particular – sorry, there we go – this work? Yeah so using those sort of Christian elements of Saint George and the dragon and narrative is based on a foreign soldier, Roman soldier, going into the Middle East and either slaying or tormenting a dragon that’s tormenting a township and dragons have always been symbolic within paintings of antiquity and religious depictions as like evil and more accurately, an enemy, so fighting an enemy and then taking possession of that location and that’s what Saint George has basically said to have done And he was the patron saint of and remains the patron saint of England and was the patron saint of the crusades So very much it’s a story permitting and approving of annexation and warfare and colonialism and the processes of that and the crusades, then appropriated banking techniques of the Middle East to transfer wealth back to Britain and Europe, Western Europe, growing very rich, taking over vast tracts of land, so very much that colonial model that happened in in later decades and centuries So I think that these sort of stories still have a really heavy weight within our societies and I argued that in my PhD research with these sort of images that these types of situations continue to play out, that these narratives continue to have a popularity within our cultural fabric and just happened in similar ways of a dragon occupying and then a hero warrior coming in and taking care of that and then taking control. So things like Iraq here within my lifetime with the intervention in Northern Territory which predominately led to taking away the Land Rights Act or not at least avoiding it and now opening it to mining interests and fracking and all that sort of thing