Sunday, December 26, 2010


Unlimited Oil on linen 120 x 160 cm

Below is the essay written for my 2005 Abu Dhabi exhibition by Holly Arden, Arts Writer and graduate in Art History [Hons First Class] from the University of Queensland. Holly is currently completing her PhD at Monash University, Theory Dept of the Faculty of Art and Design.

The paintings I have uploaded are a few that were in my Abu Dhabi exhibition and that Holly refers to in her essay.

I have uploaded the essay, because in the last few days I have received some very insightful comments from a person, based in Munich, who visited my BLOG and website. He also made insightful comments about Holly's essay.

When Holly showed me the completed essay with an introductory quote from author Andrew McGahan's 'The White Earth' I was astounded...and very pleased! Holly had had no idea that my parent's farm and the McGahan farm were only a few kilometres apart, and that our families have been friends for decades. Our farms were/are at Pirrunuan which is a railway crossing between Dalby and Jimbour, on the Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. The Pirrinuan and Jimbour Plains are treeless tracks of rich black cracking soil. To the west is an endless flat horizon which shimmers into watery mirages. To the east the Bunya Mountain Ranges cut a sharp silhouette against the vast sky. Here's a link to a Google Map where you can see our farms. My farm is at the top left.,151.237965&spn=0.030044,0.07699&z=14

The White Earth' has received a number of literary awards including; Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the South East Asia and South Pacific region, The Age Book of the Year (Fiction) and the Courier Mail Book of the Year Award. It was also shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards that same year. Check out these 2 sites:

Holly's 'seeing' of my images in Andrew's words, and her 'reading' of Andrew's prose in my images, spells out the 'magic' foreverness of the vast landscape we grew up in. It also illustrates the power of landscape on the imagination, where the imagination untethers itself from mere replication and description, to stir the vibrational currents that link us all to nature, and thus the impulses of life. The vastness of my childhood landscape gave space to notice the details, to swing from the minutae to the endless, and in doing so unleashed wonder.

Regular readers, who know of my concerns about the Coal Seam Gas [CSG] industry, will feel my distress about the impacts of the influx of coal seam gas mining on the Darling Downs, one of Australia's few prime food producing farmlands.  By puncturing the earth with gas wells, situated about 1 ha apart, not only will there be impacts on the internal health of soils and aquifers, but also on the external landscape. Already, in places where CSG has been active for some time, I have heard of water bores which have dried up, and farmers not being able to find water when trying to establish new bores.

In Holly Arden's chosen quote from Andrew McGahan's book, he refers to 'familiar squares of cultivation' [ie: broadacre farming]. If you have a look at the Google map I linked above you will see an aerial view of what broadacre farming looks like. With CSG, these ' familiar squares of cultivation', will be criss crossed with the all weather access roads which are needed to access every gas well. If you have not seen images of these roads, the pattern on the landscape is like a chaotic web, which disrupts economical and efficient farming practices, creates potential soil erosion issues, subtracts acreage from a farmer's cropping, causes potential problems because of run off [water and vehicular oils etc] onto farming land...etc etc. The landscape will no longer be 'familiar', but more importantly its life sustaining gifts of quality food and fibre will be compromised. Now this is something to be fearful of!

But, this brings me to another question. It is a soul question. What vibrational impact will an internally and externally compromised landscape have on who we are as a race...human race? Yes, over eons, we [human race]  have already changed our landscape in order to feed, house and clothe ourselves. Yet, it seems to me, that this has been a, more or less, evolving process, where we have made mistakes, learnt and changed activity to be more is an ongoing process. But, CSG and the growth of open cut mining in Queensland [and other parts of Australia] are radically, and very quickly, changing our landscape in a way which seems unfetted and diametrically opposed to lessons learnt over the eons. At a forum, on SCG and Open Cut Mining, that I attended at the University of Qld, a few weeks ago, I [and the others in the audience] were appalled when Government and Mining Industry representatives admitted that they did not know the full impact of CSG on the environment, but they'd learn as they go!

Hidden Secrets Oil on linen 120 x 160 cm

Essay By Holly Arden

…at the foot of the hill washed the plains, immediately flat. Close by the land was divided up into the familiar squares of cultivation, but as the eye leapt outwards the colours and shapes merged, fields and farms spreading all the way to the horizons…. On the left marched the blue line of the mountains, and on the right, the land merely extended forever westwards.
- Andrew McGahan, 'The White Earth'

If there is such thing as a cultural psyche, landscape would be a defining feature of it. This must at least be true in Australia, for people of both indigenous and non-indigenous heritage. And it is hardly surprising, given that Australia is four-fifths the size of North America with a population of around 20.4 million. The landscape, vast and for the most part unpopulated, is literally everywhere. ‘The Land Down Under’, ‘The Great Southern Land’: historically, mythologically and psychologically, Australia’s identity is characterised by the distances that mark its interior and separate it from the rest of the world.

As a result, landscape painting has led arguably the strongest course of Australian art. The landscape works of early post-colonial artists evidenced a type of psychological rationalisation of what they encountered in these new foreign lands. Consequently, these were often filtered through a European aesthetic. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists have pictured landscapes that recount stories of the creation of their ancestral lands. In all its forms, landscape art is a means through which artists have situated themselves physically and sensually, culturally and psychologically, in relation to place. As James Baker writes: ‘Landscape art is often a metaphor for…mindsets in that it is also a result of the response to the environment, not just a representation of it.’

What type of response might living in rural Queensland generate? Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox lived for decades in the agricultural communities of Dalby and Goondiwindi in the state’s south-east. The feelings of desolation and loneliness provoked by rural life has left its mark on the work of numerous Australian painters, foreshadowed it seems by the colonial experience. So it comes, perhaps, as a surprise to see the markedly upbeat works in this exhibition. One of the first ways we experience this is through Brimblecombe-Fox’s use of colour: jewel-like blues and fiery reds. Such reds ring true to the deep russet of the region’s soil and are coupled in works such as Life’s Vibration with a vibrant force of energy expressed by lines that vibrate with optic movement. These are scenes quite different to those traditionally pictured, for example, in Russell Drysdale’s desolate brownish terrains.

Secondly, there is a sense of harmony in these paintings achieved partly through the artist’s refined, almost diagrammatic forms. This suggests Brimblecombe-Fox works from a certain level of objectivity or ‘remove’. By ‘remove’ I mean that she is able to view the earth as a natural system and as one part of a much greater whole. Through the working of its ‘parts’, the vegetation that nurtures life, the blood that supports it, the natural world is able to revolve continuously. In a group of paintings that feature a circular earth motif, a network of roots/nerve endings/blood lines service the earth like veins. These connect with a much greater expanse of sky, which puts the earth, quite literally, into perspective. There is something liberating about this and also humbling. In works such as Every Wonderful Possibility, the sky is formed through repeated semi-circular brushstrokes. Traditionally symbolic of harmony and fertility, the circular earth is filled with the roots of life.

A range of rarefied mountain landscapes accompanies these busier paintings. The stylised, patterned forms in these works have a strong graphic quality. The sharp contrasts of the Darling Downs landscape where the artist lived perhaps lend themselves to such picturing. These are places where rain, as in Mountains Dancing, falls in visible sheets and where the mountains, as writer Andrew McGahan describes, “march” on one side, while “on the right, the land merely extend[s] forever westwards.” These are scenes of hard lines or else expanses of coloured nothingness. Then there are the man-made forms, the angular fields and irrigation channels; landscapes which, especially in the harsh light and heat, lend them to abstract rendering. And in the heat of the day, as in Mountains Dancing, there are illusions everywhere, where the luminous blue of the mountains could be mistaken for a gathering of lakes.

Mountains Dancing Oil on linen 80 x 120 cm

The use of abstracted form is also, for Brimblecombe-Fox, a way of translating her impressions of landscape into paint, impressions for which there are not always visual equivalents. None of these works were painted on site. Therefore, by employing a series of ‘motifs’ that might represent a thought or feeling about a place, or through intuitive brushwork, Brimblecombe-Fox maps a personal, inner landscape. A defining marker of the Darling Downs landscape, the mountain is repeated in a varied range of responses to this metaphor for life’s goals and challenges. (And there must be at least one personal mountain here; achieving an exhibition, let alone in another country is one steep climb)! In Metaphor, warmth seems to emanate from beneath the blanket-like covering of the mountain. In Hidden Secrets, the mountains are veiled, elusive and because of this, ever so slightly ominous. In the russet coloured painting, Mountains As Metaphors, the flowing painted line transforms the mountain range into a wave-like abstract form. Floating in an expanse of flat colour it is inaccessible but, with its gentle undulations, its distance causes no anxiety.

Mountains As Metaphors Oil on linen 80 x 200 cm

Mountains As Metaphors demonstrates Brimblecombe-Fox’s distinctive use of abstract graphic form, particularly line. In this work, the line is highly charged, seeming literally to carve the landscape out from a red void. In Earth’s Vibration and Inside The Mirage, multitudes of loose lines suggest a landscape quivering with potential energy. These heavily worked lines are also physical signifiers of the artist shaping the land in paint. In contrast to these more highly composed paintings, a group of gentler, freer works reflects the artist’s fascination with the possibilities of her medium. In Unlimited, for example, Brimblecombe-Fox builds thin washes of paint, allowing these to drip into forms that could be rain-washed landscapes or layers of wood grain.

Inside The Mirage Oil on linen 80 x 200 cm

Informed by vastness and distance, Brimblecombe-Fox’s paintings have an essence of Australia. But aren’t these qualities (feelings, stories) that might also be found throughout the world, in the desert scapes of the Middle East? Thus, while they speak of specific sites, gained through decades of living in rural Queensland, they are not essentially Australian. Part psychological, part allegorical, they have universal resonance. Most refreshingly, while her large canvases hint at emotions such as the fear and loneliness that come with isolated living, Brimblecombe-Fox never allows them to become overly sentimental. Instead, they reflect a mature artist with the ability to balance feeling with resolved, sophisticated approaches to painting this most charged of subjects.
Holly Arden

So, until next time,

VORTEX 22 Feb-6 March, Graydon Gallery, 29 Merthyr Rd, New Farm, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
I am thinking of having an 'artist's talk' in discussion with an Art Historian on Sat 26 or Sun 27 Feb. Stay tuned for details.


Audubon Ron said...

I think this is the first dark painting I've seen. The red is very red and I love the mountains.

Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox said...

Hi Ron,
Yes, the red is very red! The mountains were inspired by the Bunya Mt Range which was visible to the east of my chilhood farm. We used to travel up to the mountains for special picnics. The environment was SO different in the mountains compared to the open plains. The dark painting is one I am very fond of.
Thanks for visiting again. Cheers,