In 2015 I travelled to London in order to study Persian miniature painting. My ambition was to learn the historical skills and techniques of making paints, preparing paper and the refinement of paint application which I would then adapt to my contemporary abstract interpretations of light and air in the landscape to create a micro world of tiny shimmering lines. As it turned out the tradition of learning Persian miniature painting involves studying the original masters and doesn't allow for a great deal of personal invention or self expression. The process of learning is understandably very slow and meticulous and has involved a considerable amount of research into Islamic art and aesthetics. So I put aside my 21st century understanding of contemporary abstraction for awhile and stepped back a few centuries to explore another aesthetic world from an entirely different culture to my own, thereby hoping to bring new insights and possibilities to my painting practice further down the track. Although this illustrative work is so different to what I have done previously, many of the concepts relating to the landscape, how we perceive it and our need to care for it remain continuous.
There are 3 bodies of work in this series. In a strange Land, The Book of Trees and All hands danced together.
The starting point for In a Strange Land is a miniature painting by Habiballah of Sava, (ca1600 CE, Isfahan, Iran) of the Mantiq al-tayr (The language of the birds). This folio illustrates a poetic text of the same name, also often referred to as 'The Conference of the Birds', by Farid al-Din Attar Ca 1187 CE. The story is an allegory of the challenges of the journey through life, self realisation and ultimately transcendence of the everyday world. In my miniatures I have reinterpreted the narrative into the landscape and birds of Tasmania. The birds become the narrators of our story and our troubled relationship to the environment. I have linked the aesthetic traditions of natural history illustration from two disparate but strangely similar traditions - 12-16th Century Persia and 18th Century colonial Australia in miniatures that celebrate the life of birds while telling a story of threat and optimistic survival.
The Book of Trees continues this idea of linking two different cultural traditions to document portraits of iconic old gum trees. I have borrowed compositions from historical Persian miniatures featuring architectural structures and figures acting out a narrative in front of a doorway revealing the natural world beyond. In some of the works the elaborate borders frame the tree portraits each paired or mirrored side by side like a prayer, poem or lung. In my mind these pictures are devotional images that celebrate the aesthetics and sculptural form of the trees and their unique cultural and ecological identity and value.
The final body of work, And all hands danced together, uses the words of Lt William Bradley as a starting point, "These people mixed with ours and all hands danced together" 1788, Sydney Cove. These words were spoken at a brief moment in Australia's history when the possibility of conciliation and friendship could have occurred between the British and Indigenous people, but sadly didn't. After that things went horribly wrong and colonial history is marred by carnage and suffering for Indigenous people and significant loss of species, vegetation and the destruction of wildlife habitat. These dancing trees although beautiful sculptural forms are dead because of us. Hundreds of years old they stand silently with their wriggly limbs curling into the air. They have borne witness to our dark history.
A selection of highlights from each series is included here.
For the full collection please click on the exhibition title for a link to the gallery website.