Almond tree in blossom, 1887 – John Russell (image – http://www.fivemore.com.au/capturing-the-moment-japan-france-and-the-australian-impressionists/)
Earlier this week I spent a few days in Melbourne. While I was there I spent some time wandering through the National Gallery of Victoria. A painting by the Australian impressionist painter, John Russell caught my eye. It dates from the time when Japanese art was first coming to the attention of western painters. With it’s flat use of colour, strong diagonals and crowded foreground Russell’s painting is reminiscent of the wood block prints of Hiroshige. The painting has recently been restored and flat gold background glows with an inner radiance. Unfortunately my chemical sensitivities go into overdrive in the city and I moved past the painting quickly for I could smell traces of the chemicals used to clean the work.
old flower painting
stinking of new varnishes
In another gallery I came across an exhibition of the contemporary artist, John Wolseley. (John Wolseley – Heartlands and Headwaters – NGV 2015)
Huge sheets of paper hung from the gallery walls. On them fine traceries of animal and bird tracks, smears of dirt, charcoal rubbings of tree bark, delicate water colour painting and scrawls of pencil combined to create immersive works that grabbed my attention. My eyes lingered over the exquisitely detailed paintings of birds, complex bark rubbings, fragments of maps and lines of text. I felt far more connected to both the art and to the environment depicted than I had when I paused in front of Russell’s decorative painting.
Speaking of his work Wolseley says :
‘My work over the last thirty years has been a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape. I have lived and worked all over the continent from the mountains of Tasmania to the floodplains of Arnhem land. I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world – leaf, feather and beetle wing – to the abstract dimensions of the earth’s dynamic systems. Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.
I like to think that the large works on paper on which I assemble these different drawing methods represent a kind of inventory or document about the state of the earth. I want to reveal both the energy and beauty of it, as well as show its condition of critical even terminal change. My interest is to paint the processes and energy field of the living systems of this land – flocks of birds, or water plants in swamps, or the movement of sand dunes or the ways in which trees regenerate after fire. In the last few years I have been concentrating on the wetlands of Australia which are threatened by our changing climate and the clearing or ground for industrial farming.’ An Artsphere Website © John Wolseley 2015
staining the paper
flowers, paint, dirt and snail trails
– art and nature mesh