Updated: Jun 22, 2020
There is a huge flood that occurs during my stay at our family farm in Whittlesea during the COVID 19 pandemic. I capture images regularly on my country walks with my iPhone. One day on a walk I meet our neighbour, artist Marg Towt, who mentored me somewhat when I was a child.
Marg shares incredible footage of the 'swamp' flooding again, the images taken from a drone this week. The aerial photos remind me of the viewpoint of many Aboriginal paintings. We chat (1.5 metres from each other!) about the restorative environmental work she's done to the wetlands to bring them back to their former glory - an image none of us know what looks like because it is generations before today's farmers. I asked her if there is evidence of Aboriginals on the land around there, and whilst she says there isn't, we discuss how wetlands would have been the 'breadbasket' of the area, housing many edible plants and animals. She has worked hard to get the ribbon weed plant growing in the wetlands again - and she says its back again.
I chat to my sister who did some research into the European contest for the lands around Whittlesea. She didn't find a lot, but it seemed there had been some Aboriginal resistance fighting along the way. I wonder what it would have been like to live in these lands around then.
I want to reflect the layers of memory, ancient and childhood in my next etches. I am almost at a loss of where to start. How to reference the land, without it being a cliche. How to acknowledge the missing Aboriginals with integrity and an honesty, when the reality is that I know nothing of their local stories. It seems apt that I move beyond the Flagstaff locality, but to this place, that I know so well, and yet is still mysterious... it seems so personal. These are some of my notebook sketches:
I read Bruce Pascoe's Dark Emu and watch the First Peoples documentary on SBS. I follow the Black Lives Matter protests, and buy Briggs' children's book, Our Home, Our Heartbeat for my daughter, and watch the beautiful Uluru Statement https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement. It seems seems wherever I look, there is an Aboriginal subtext.
The natural world of our property is part of my every day exixtance living on the farm again during the COVID-19 crisis. Each day I walk, often at dawn, taking in the flooded plains and the wet scenes. The power of nature, its homeliness, but also its mystery, becomes a theme in reflections of water, of the flooding.
Back to my copper plate, I smooth down the edges, taking care to not accidentally rasp my hand on the sharp edges of the copper. It's important to direct the tool away from your body as you do this. Safety glasses are also a good idea.
Then my daughter helps me make marks on the copper plate - stamping it into the gravel of the driveway, scraping against the stock yards. I want the landscape to be imbued into the next two etchings. A clean up with soy sauce and I'm ready to begin.
I love the under currents of land and place in the first layer of my plate.
I want to express these undercurrents in my piece. I am influenced by the layers of Place Newstead printmaker, Richard Sullivan, made in his contemporary one-off prints of Central Australian in an exhibition I saw at Red Door Gallery in March.
I thought about the aerial look to the work of contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Dorothy Napangardi and Margaret Lewis Napangardi, and how they seemed to encompass the micro and the macro landscape, its history and its contemporary nature. I wanted to reflect how the close up of the creek bed, could also look like panoramic of the drone photos.
I use roulettes and my etching tools to build up line and texture in keeping with movement of flood plain and morning mist. I use ink to proof the image because I don't initially have access to a press.
I visit my artist friend, Pearl Taylor, who has a press. It feels weird to press outside the university studio. I haven't used a press for about four months during COVID, so I remind myself of the safe practices around her studio. It feels so good to press my images, I am very fortunate to have access to her little press.
You can see that Pearl's press was initial set up for lino cuts. After two gos through, I realised I need to tighten the press a lot more. I also blotted the damp paper more thoroughly and was careful to leave a good amount of tone on the plates. I was much happier with the darker, moodier look of the images after that. I realised that each press has it's quirks, and that I was quite out of practice with the practical press work I was able to do!
You can see my final prints, inspired by layers of history, layers of land and water, home and place - all on my Gallery Page.