Beaches, Bush & Beyond

Creating The Context.

(Catalogue Introduction: Beaches, Bush and Beyond. An exhibition of paintings and drawings by Dr. Karen Knight-Mudie, Arts Foyer, USQ October, 2003.)

Our planet Earth provides the ideal place for living. It has continents and islands separated by large oceans, and lazy or raging rivers meander or surge across the various landmasses. In places the water rests in deep lakes, billabongs and dams - wherever the water is, so too is life.

The water is part of nature’s great ‘land developer’ that cuts wide valleys through weaknesses in the land and scours narrow gorges through harder rock. It acts as a transport system for collecting material that is deposited along the way to the sea and thus constantly reshapes the landscape. New rivers are born as new hills are formed by the water’s pattern making.

Other pattern making happens constantly at ocean’s edge where the shifting battle zone of shoreline presents headlands as solitary survivors of the sea’s invasion while, on the other hand, bays are the result of land’s retreat. The sculpting of the coastline from the pounding of the waves is on going.

Perhaps this sculpting exemplifies the rhythm of life for many Australians who cluster on the edge of the continent in the hopes of close access to a beach or a view of the water from a pinnacle of iron. Of the 22 million inhabitants, the majority gravitates to the edge of this vast, dry continent where they surf in their dreams or, often in reality, simply sniff the sea.

For the few, another sculpting takes place in the bush where claws and jaws of metal turn the soil in a matter of moments and plastic pipes weave water in unlikely ways. Golden grain is sown to be reaped at the whim of Mother Nature for even dream pipes alone cannot provide wondrous water. Thus the rhythm of life for the few stutters in anticipation of storms to fill the rivers, dams and billabongs.

The myth of Australian-ness lies deeply rooted in the bush and anchored in the sea. This is the myth that Karen Knight-Mudie weaves into visual language as she tells stories of the Australian bush and seascapes with the earth, rocks and water assuming the main characters, while the people and places are evoked through references and allusions. Karen has made field trips to Kakadu, the Flinders Ranges, Moreton Island, Port Arthur, Carnarvon Gorge, the Jondaryan Woolshed and Mt Moffatt, where glimpses of Australia’s soul have been captured in each series. The love of the land whispers through layer upon layer of watercolour as a site for legends to be born, and, in this exhibition, Beaches, Bush and Beyond, she raises questions about living or destroying the dream.

 

Artist's Statement: Stuff of Dreams

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. (Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I)

The words of the shunted Duke-of-Milan-come-magician, Prospero, have been drumming in my head as the images for 'Beaches, Bush and Beyond' developed. When working on previous exhibitions the seed of an idea has always come from the land and then somehow planted itself in snippets of words (poem, story) to incubate and grow into a visual story. The way in which stories and images have formed an integral relationship in building Australia's cultural heritage fascinates me and the increasing power of image-journalism reminds me of the 'tall stories' of yesteryear as our modern yarn spinners now use images to promise, to coerce and to persuade.

Brochures abound, pamphlets proliferate. The Internet spawns and television clutters minds with ready-made otherness. Being what we are not is the dream. The whole notion of 'making your dream come true' seems to be the latest magic potion ladled out by merchants of commodification and instant gratification who toy with the Australian psyche rooted in land and bathed in the sea. Our history flows with stories of bush and beaches and it is not uncommon for each of us to want to be part of that history. But a problem we now face seems to be very similar to that of the emperor's clothes - gloriously paraded in their nothingness. The very things we treasure are being developed into an otherness, cloaked in commodity to become authentically inauthentic " ... like the baseless fabric of this vision," according to Prospero.

The speed with which trees are felled, earth removed, bricks laid and steel planted never ceases to amaze me and led me to ponder ways in which I might capture the story of this metamorphosis in images - hand made images that might suspend the soul of our beaches and bush. As a watercolourist I love playing with the will of the water. It has it's own spirit and flows where it likes and my joy is to let it take me on a voyage of discovery. Often it puddles and pools in unlikely spots and so, to me, it has a spontaneity aptly suited to its kin, the landscape.

On the other hand, the starkness of conté and ink has the immediacy of a jackhammer and seemed the perfect combination to use in depicting encroaching development - big, bold, cold and fast like the relentless intensity of land use that results in a steady crawl on remaining beaches and bush in Australia and other wilderness areas on earth. Since the mid 18th century some 34 species of mammals, 94 species of birds and uncounted plants, fungi and microorganisms have disappeared from our planet. Our environment is fast becoming a soulless stage upon which slash and burn is the main act.

However, we still hanker after our heritage as we grab our togs, pack the picnic and head for the beach. Or we fuel up the four-wheel, roof-rack the tent and burn bitumen to the bush. Meanwhile, the mortgage is anchored beyond the dream in the reality of solid steel, bricks and mortar.

There seems to be a bizarre paradox unfolding in our dream crossed lifestyle and I have attempted to image this paradox in 'Beaches, Bush and Beyond'. The beaches and bush have become shimmering glimpses snuggled in the jaws of development and, to add to the sense of the surreal, the actual paintings may be taken out of the drawings so that only a void area is left.

 

Nothing.

 

But the development remains, beyond what was.

 

I visited all the sites depicted in the images and gathered ideas in sketches and film from the library of life. In a way it's like finding data from valid sources when using the written word to propose a thesis, construct an argument or tell a meaningful story. However, the visual language does not follow a set convention and thus it becomes a birthing process of an idea that takes form in the making. At no time was I exactly sure of what the outcome would be.

As the images took form they suggested various titles ironically connected to subdivisions. If we pick up a real estate brochure we see the glossy colour images of houses or blocks of land for sale in enticing, provocative, prestigious 'new' estates.

Hence, the paintings become the 'lots' for sale in the grand developments as listed below. As always, the estate itself can be bought.

Terraces at Moreton (diptych).         FOR SALE in Paver Place

Golden Sands (diptych).                  FOR SALE in Beach Parade

Beaut View.                                      FOR SALE in Crystal Waters

Dam Bliss.                                       FOR SALE in Crystal Waters

Summer Place.                                FOR SALE in Dream Court

Fishin' Headland.                             FOR SALE in Hope Haven

 

This idea led me to consider the great Australian sand-surf dream from the remoteness of the bush where the holiday hope hovers like a mirage throughout the year. A mirage is a strange illusion of something that appears very real shimmering above the horizon in the distance. It's alluring but attainable. Often, for some folk living in the Australian bush, the holiday at the beach is a mirage. This made me think about using the layers and filters of the Photoshop programme to float beach-dreams over the outback. With computer technology now available one can tell the most fantastic lies and thus use of such a smart machine seemed appropriate for creating a great illusion.

Further illusion could be created by weaving the dream into houses, cottages and sheds. This idea also prompted me to play around as a removalist in carting houses (rather than tents) to the once remote Mt Moffatt National Park and the Carnarvon Gorge where the vast, magnificent landscape was barely touched by human development. No doubt metal pins have been inserted into the bones of sandstone and, if so, the included images of Mt Moffatt and Carnarvon serve as a whispered reminder of pristine places in the Bush.

All stories have a beginning and an end - or so it is said. I don't agree. To me a story is a living organism that grows and changes in each telling, hearing or reading and so experiences from here and there are woven in and out of the pattern of associations by the meaning-maker.

This exhibition, 'Beaches, Bush and Beyond' is another visual chapter in my continuing tale of life in Australia. It deals with a rising wave of dreamers and developers tossed together in a tide of technology.

The previous chapter, Moonlighting in Moffatt, told of murder and poddy-dodging exploits that are part of our history, before that, Whispers of the Immortality, evoked memories of convict forebears in Port Arthur and 'golden' fleece days at Jondaryn Woolshed.

The next chapter - who knows? Let's hope Prospero is wrong in saying:

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind.

       (Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act IV, Scene I)

 

Enjoy the stuff of dreams,

Karen Knight-Mudie