Ghost Forests

After a year of painting and utterly wonderful distraction, Ghost Forests was completed and opened last week. I've spent the last few months hermited away and happily so, looking up from time to time to notice the beautiful sky. Ghost Forests grew out the conversations Eugenie and I had as we walked and drove and explored the hidden places of Canberra. It was Eugenie's dad who first showed us the redwood grove. I asked her to write an essay to accompany the paintings because her involvement has been fundamental in the creation of this body of work.Catalog

In 1918, Walter Burley Griffin planted 122,000 giant redwoods in the grassland plains near Pialligo. Griffin was dreaming of the High Sierras. He wanted to give his new city a towering wilderness, a majestic forest reminiscent of America’s Pacific Northwest. Over the course of a few summers, Griffin and his horticulturalists watched as field after field of seedlings turned orange, shrivelled, and died. The advice they’d ignored was right. Canberra’s climate was both too dry and too hot to sustain a population of sequoia. Of the original fledgling forest, in five years over 98% had perished. Only three thousand trees survived.

These survivors are still around. Almost a century later, Jon and I loaded up his car with a paints and a picnic and drove out, past Brand Depot and Duntroon, along the hot flat stretch of highway by the airport. The redwoods appear as a clump of spires on the horizon. Pulling up in the car-park feels surreal. Sequoia have bright, warm needles, distinct from the deeper shade of Canberra's plantation pines. There’s a little trail that winds off into the distance, marked by baby blazes on two foot poles. By the path at the entrance is a stand of rocks. They’re embossed with bronze plaques: Gary Trayton Bryant, 21.3.34 – 1.9.91. In Memory of Ruth, 13.6.67 – 4.8.94. Both are stamped with the ACT ParkCare logo. Under the first name it reads, Sadly missed by Joanna and all who loved him. Beneath that there is the epithet, He loved these redwoods. As you walk further into the grove, the air stills. Heart-beats slow. The trees are so tall. Sequoia can live for thousands of years. In parts of the glade they grow so closely that the light dims. Potential age hangs in the silence. The world expands, as you move through the breathing of a vast, surrounding forest. Until the sky booms and a Qantas jet rips through the treeline - and you emerge, as Jon and I did, to face brown fields and crackling mountains. The occluded bush, always waiting. Always on the other side.

Canberra is full of strange places like this. It is a city of multiple realities. “The Bush Capital” is metropolitan and wilderness. It is millions of years old and now celebrating a centenary. It is eucalyptus grassland spotted with thickets of birch, poplar and pine, pockets of European and American sensibilities. The ashes of the burned down pine plantation feed the National Arboretum. The closer you get to Parliament House, the greener the suburbs become. Scattered across the grey Canberran bush are streaks of bright foliage, spirits of foreign experience transplanted into Australian soil. This manipulation of the landscape raises immediate questions. What is the tension between the imagined and actual realities of a place? How does a mysticised perception of nature colour the reality of urban life? Why do Australians feel disconnected from the bush? Why do we implant other realities into a landscape that already has its own history, its own stories, its own beauty? How do we supplant Aboriginal histories only to evoke cultures and memories we have never been a part of? Australia has always existed within these contentions. As walkers pass through Canberra's tiny forests, multiple resonances jut against one another for integrity, space and prominence.

In Ghost Forests Jon addresses these questions. The need to approach these spaces on their own terms guided Jon's choice of two new mediums for the show: ceramics, and painting on found wood. Wood is a unique surface. Jon says that the grain functions like a natural underpainting. It's necessary to work with this form, even when imposing an image. Painting on wood also continues Jon's on-going interest in dissolving the distinction between the work, the studio, the environment and the act of making images. A couple of years ago Jon went out and painted directly on trees. Bringing wood into the studio reverses this trajectory. Still, the hours of walking, searching, sanding and glazing that go into preparing each wooden surface are obvious in every piece. All of these moments are equal parts of the work, as is the changed understanding viewers will bring out of the gallery and into the places Jon depicts.

The show's collection of ceramics also makes use of found objects. For Jon, wooden material corresponds to a process of personal exploration. These ceramic pieces are designed to evoke the tea-sets of colonial Australiana, place-based souvenirs which manufacture a distorted, sentimental attachment to the landscape, modelled on the English countryside. Jon's work does the opposite. In making images on cups and saucers his aim is to cut through habitual complacency and bring an expanded awareness into the patterns of every day life. While ceramics may make the point most explicitly, all of the paintings in Ghost Forests share this intention. By entering Canberra's glades and plantations Jon has attempted to open himself completely to the huge reality of what they are. The introduced forests of Canberra are the product of an invader culture, a symbol of the agenda to supplant and obliterate the rightful Aboriginal owners of this land. At the same time, they are living beings. They have their own existences. They can be loved. Canberra doesn't have an easy history, or a magnificent beauty. Attempts to give it these things have failed. What remains is uncertain and demanding. But between the redwoods and the bush there is a difficult richness. Open, and it will fill you.

Eugenie Edquist, Canberra 2014


He Loved This Place



These Two Extraordinary Women

Ghost Forests is showing at ANCA Gallery until the 27th of April. 1 Rosevear Place, Dickson ACT 2602.


The Surprising Smell of Australia


Slowly, slowly, slowly I'm exhaling mist - its physical form through physical action. I've been holding my breath for one entire year, and now, as I breathe out, this is what's forming in the condensation. And oh boy am I breathing heavily. I've been busy rolling, rolling, rolling these long strands of fog out of softly coloured wool.

"You look like you're making noodles."

I wonder if people who make noodles hurt this much in the morning. Every day I wake with a groan. But I love this feeling, my aching body feels real and present. It's making something true, something it needs to. This pain is the feeling of growth.

As I walk through the streets and parks I pretend I am walking through a classical Chinese landscape. Beijing is so far removed from these images and yet if you squint you can see yourself  as that eremitic wanderer. In Canberra, when I walk though the streets and parks, I imagine myself as forest-dweller, sometimes a fairy tale figure. In many ways the project reminds me of home but it's the smell of the work that's the strongest trigger, something I didn't expect. It's the wool.  I need to wet it in order to felt it, and the smell seems such an Australian experience that it's comforting to return to it every day. And every day I'm a little less sore as my body accommodates. Odd sadness here is frequent but these feelings assure me I'm on the right path.

early mists           early mists



At the Temple of Heaven

Honey It's Been a While!

As a bird leaves its perch to drop down to a landing bellow, there is a split second in which it allows itself to fall. A small hop into space, wings by its side, fat body drops. I know this because I like to watch the magpies make their way from the telegraph lines onto the lawn, and this is how it's done. They like our garden probably because of the veggie patch which my housemate tends to. They fan their wings and effortlessly land in the grass for a good old scavenge. Flying for a bird, I imagine, might be a little like walking for us – an entirely natural process. When a magpie drops like that from a height, it knows what it is doing with certainty beyond knowing. But it's so comical to watch. And so beautiful. Right now in the garden it is warm, I am reading my sweet, sugary letters, and fat little bodies are dropping and plopping. Things are fitting and I am finding the nooks and crannies of my house again. I am so glad for my jobs – I am so glad for my garage studio – so glad to know a real love(s).

Ghost Forests and Indoor Mists

At the moment I am working on two projects:

The first is about the introduced forests of Canberra – an examination of the types of plantations here, an acknowledgement of their 'foreignness'. Scattered across the grey Canberra bush are streaks of dark green groves, spirits of foreign experience transplanted into Australian soil. They are spaces of imagination. The walker is briefly immersed in the presence of a surrounding forest, only to emerge again into the reality of the Canberran bush. For a long time I have been aware of how these spaces are an integral part to my own personal sense of home. I love the Old English Gardens, I love the Redwood Grove, I love the pines that were burned in 2003. And yet these places I see as so inherently Canberran have supplanted the forests, stories, histories that came before. There is a tension, a sometimes violent resonance, between the forest and bush. Why do we supplant aboriginal histories only to evoke cultures and memories we have never been a part of? On a personal level, I hope this work can resolve some of these questions.

forests path forest path

The second is an installation project I'll be working on as part of a residency in Beijing. This piece is a response to Mist as it is used in Chinese Nature Painting. It is about the insertion of intangible natural forms, built with tangible materials, brought into the constructed environment of the city and gallery. A fog that has rolled in from the mountains into the gallery space. I like the idea of Mist in Nature Painting as a tool to illustrate a spiritual understanding of the natural world as both seen and unseen. And it is particularly interesting to see growing popularity of Nature Painting in China at a time when more people than ever have left the these spaces for the polluted metropolis. Smog has replaced mist in Beijing. But if you were to pretend that smog was mist couldn't you have the same spiritual experiences? And wouldn't those experiences be just as valid?

french knit

I'll be going to Beijing in December and I'll post updates here. Ghost Forests won't be on until April next year but I like starting early.

Model Citizens and the Importance of Exhibiting

Where to begin after a painting stasis? My friend Helani recently put together a zine - funny and sad in parts. "Stuck for an idea". That really rang true!

I have been concentrating on two activities in the past month. Painting and packing, which don't really go hand in hand. Packing is melancholic and comforting but I like my studio (my bedroom) to be properly organized. Not clean, but tidy, everything should sit comfortably in its place. Now, though,  there are boxes everywhere. To begin work in this environment is overwhelming, but it is so good to be painting again. I have been making work here and there for this show and that, but I realised the other day that I haven't actually painted since Nooks and Crannies. I have missed it. And I am rediscovering that feeling of being lost on a blank canvas. Every time you begin a new painting you re-learn how to paint. The act of painting is not simply an execution of learned skills, it's a dynamic and ongoing response to the subject and materials. You fight, resolve problems, enjoy the moments when the material seems to work on its own, you penetrate the object as it penetrates you. It is deeply personal, it is hurtful, it is ecstasy.

In other words it has been nice to remember this process. It has also reminded me of the process - the event - of the gallery. I am glad whenever I can show. Over coffee a friend of mine told me she didn't want to take part in shmoozing, the self aggrandising  that is so much a part of exhibiting, and so apart from anything meaningful or artful. This is an inevitable part of exhibiting. But to exhibit is also part of the process of art making. The event doesn't cease when the production of work stops but continues into the gallery space - a space for viewing and experiencing. This interaction is not between the artist and the work, it's between the viewer and the work. I have experienced real clarity when viewing exhibited work. Like Suzanne Moss' paintings, which shimmer and shift optically and spatially - it's important that they be seen, it is vital, a part of the process. That experience travels with me now, just as the mountains and the mists of Canberra do.

This work was for a show called Model Citizens. It is a lot of fun making again, and showing. Ahh, the shenanigans. I will be starting an ongoing project soon, and I'll use this space to tease out thoughts and ideas. Shortly I will be leaving crossroadz and leaving Australia to spend some time in Hong Kong! There will be a blog about all the comings and goings which will be set up soon. I will link to it when it is ready.

The winding little rivers of Hong Kong.

Ghost Forests

Ghost forests of Canberra are small and hidden. And at times I don't know them.Some are plantations, straight lines that shimmer as you drive past.

Some are pine, cedar or redwood - ten, eleven, twelve or twenty. It would take the same time to walk though this forest as it would to walk around it. These tiny forests They will still surround you, a glade of trees in a grassy landscape. Yellow and Eucalypt slipping into black green.

Some forests are only seen, never entered. We live right up against a forest like this. From my garden I can see the infinite greenery. We peer into the fantasy, with our coffee, every morning On the stoop. It is impenetrable. Walk into it and you come out the other side, Having entered nothing but being well on your way to the shops.