Saturday, May 14, 2016


Runoff Gouache and watercolour on paper 30 x 42 cm 2016

My last post was called PLAYING WITH AUSTRALIA . In that post I uploaded two recent AUSTRALIA paintings - and - here's another new one for you. I have been working with gouache and watercolour on paper for a few months and thoroughly enjoying it too. However, for every painting I upload, there's a few that have been ripped up or painted over. The process of painting is an ebb and flow, of feeling that a work is successful - not successful - successful - not successful and so on. 

I have painted Australia as a series of colourful ribbon-like lines. The contours of the Australian continent seem to leak into what could be an ocean of water or an 'ocean' of space or an 'ocean' of metaphors claiming our imaginations. When I painted this image I was thinking of many things: our environment, current national and world politics, our national identity, globalisation, influence, brain drains, the environment, the future and more. 

I was inspired by some old photographs from my youth. These photos recorded a very serious flood that occurred in early 1981. The flood waters ripped gully-like contours into the deep black soil paddocks in and surrounding my parent's farm. Whilst it had rained heavily in our local area, it had also rained very heavily in the nearby Bunya Mountains. The runoff had traveled many kilometres onto the black soil Pirrnuan Plain where my parent's farm was situated. The erosion caused by the massive water runoff continues to scar the landscape. The photos below show you the extent of the water coverage. 

Pirrinuan Plain, Queensland, Australia Flood 1981

Pirrinuan Plain, Queensland, Australia Flood 1981

So, literal floodwater runoff got me thinking about currency - not only literal water currents, but also political currency, financial currency, contemporaneous-ness. What happens when things get out of control? When does political 'runoff' cause 'erosion' of confidence? Where does economic 'runoff' cause an 'erosion' of sustainability? There are questions about industrial and technological development and the 'runoffs' that erode environmental sustainability. What kinds of scars are our activities of the 20th and 21st century leaving for future generations?

Yet, water runoff as it travels to the lowest point can also replenish underground aquifers, dams, lakes and other water storages. In these cases abundance is not wasted, as the water is stored for future use. Thinking about this got me contemplating about how we might 'store' economic wealth in ways that ensure sustainability and equitable distribution to support social infrastructures. This is at the same time as allowing people to pursue their dreams.

How can we maintain political systems that provide a store of integrity that generates confidence? Are there ways to rebuild and then store, and therefore re-store, environmental safeguards eg: water, soil, air, flora and fauna?

I have a some experience with re-storing land. When I lived in Goondiwindi, further west than my childhood home, I was lucky enough to build two big beautiful  gardens. Both gardens were situated on a block out of town, beside a creek. However, the land had previously been overstocked, it had been eroded, and the only plants that seemed to thrive were prickly ones.

I had the land deep ripped. This is a process of digging deeply into the soil with a deep ripping machine towed behind a tractor. It allows air flow and water absorption, plus penetration of nutrients into the soil. I introduced nutrients by digging in rotten hay and cotton trash [leftover from the cotton gin]. I had large mounds of soil formed in big garden beds, and into these I planted hundreds of small tubular plants: eucalyptus, sheoaks and other native bushes and trees. They grew quickly as their roots were able to spread out and grow into the newly mounded and ripped soil. As time went by, the trees self-mulched the soil with their dropped leaves and I was able to plant smaller bushes and ground covers. Worms even reappeared! And, the prickly plants were largely eradicated.

Yes, we had floods in Goondiwindi too. Once my gardens and the remaining paddocks were deep ripped, and grasses and other foliage were restored, the flood waters did not strip the land, causing further erosion. Instead the water penetrated the soil and re-established sub-soil moisture profiles ie: stored water for the future! The runoff was collected...

Me starting one of the Goondiwindi gardens. The soil had already been deep ripped. 

So...I've written quite a bit - but I hope it helps you see how an artist draws upon a range of influences, experiences and thoughts. Runoff is a painting that proposes neither good nor bad outcomes, but I think it certainly triggers questions.


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