Notes on Crossing the Rubicon River
Exhibition notes for Jan Murphy Gallery staff
We have relocated to Hawley Beach, Tasmania, on the very beautiful Rubicon River. ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ in 18th century erotic literature referred to losing your virginity, or moving from innocence into knowledge. It stems from Julius Caesar who wanted to enforce his troops to fight to the death in new territory by literally burning the bridges behind them, there being no means of retreat. He crossed the Rubicon River in Italy with his troops at low tide knowing they could not return when the tide did.
It seemed like a fine title for an art show which involves some new experimentation with how to make paint behave to create certain images. I also believe that an artistic journey should be one which involves constant growth of knowledge in one’s endeavours, following a trickle of an idea to its delta, and hopefully the images that get made as a result will appeal to others.
Estuary Bed (Mouth of the River) – painted from an aerial perspective, and with an eastern means of reading the picture from top to bottom as a verticalised landscape. The smallest spring will eventually find its course to the estuary bed. This painting is a generic image of an estuary bed, not that of an actual river. It is also the title of a favourite song of mine played often in the studio by the Triffids with the poetry of David McComb. It is a very Australian song.
The Quiet Gardener – this painting has a surrealist edge to it, blurring the edges between the figure of the ‘gardener’ and the garden itself, so that the two become the one integrated creative production. It is the peace and tranquillity a person might experience having created a garden over a decade or more. The etchings (done with common house nails) adds another border on certain objects which shifts the reading of the painting back and forth.
Mangrove – this painting has a great deal of depth and density, having been made over a long period of time. I am happy for the lower layers of a painting to settle for years like sedimentary rock, and then to make their contribution through upper layers. In such layering, I was reminded of Ian Fairweather, and utilised the ‘scaffolding lines’ of his famous painting Mangrove as a departure point. It is a complex painting worthy of the complexity of a mangrove ecosystem.
The Perfumed Garden – is another painting that took years to gestate, because of the layers of paint and the sessions of painting involved until there is a peaceful resolution or at least a surrender. Underneath this painting is another once titled Shalimar (After Fairweather) and elements of it show through the transparent upper layers, adding a rich patina over time, something I am often seeking with my paintings. It is not a real garden of course, but based on the sensation a person might experience in a utopic garden setting. Upon extended viewing, the mark making is intended to create a dreamlike drift of forms, as if the plants are in motion.
Welcome Back to Queensland – a painting which seeks to characterise Queensland as a tropical paradise through the movement of plants and the application of subtly shifting bright light achieved by the application of transparent oils. I imagined it might be used as an iconic painting for a major Tourism Queensland campaign. It is always a pleasure to return to a place where you expect to be welcomed. All of the plants are invented and created to suit the diagonal orientation of the composition. I tend to paint plants in a verticalised landscape, which is more eastern than western, because I believe that the plant forms of Australia are basically those of much of Asia.
Welcome to Queensland (diptych) – although painted in Melbourne, I sought to remember the harsher light of Queensland, and chose these invented plants to suggest a Queensland mood.
Sudden Change of Season – tries to capture, via using invented natural forms, the sudden and rapid change which occurs in all forms, spiritually, socially, politically, environmentally, with the appearance of an extremely rapidly painted picture. I wanted it to contain a large dose of the energy that went into its making, as if the subject of the force is perpetually subject to it.
Natural Spring – this painting has considerable depth, with various visual cues taking you into the internal forest detail of the painting, from which a natural spring emerges and always pours clean water. I believe that paintings are fictional things, like classical music or a well-directed movie, which are capable of transporting one to a different place temporarily.
Palm Sunday 1-6 – these paintings represent the faithful carrying of palms to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, shortly before his resurrection. But they could equally be interpreted as pictures of Queensland back yards where every Sunday could be celebrated. Because some restraint should be shown for Palm Sunday, I artificially set myself the task of completing the six in the suite with a single brush, and a very limited set of colours.
Through the Magnolia to the River – is a complex and tangled web of colours and forms which might take some time to decipher in terms of a match of meaning with the title. It is meant to present as a thicket, and a cryptic challenge. The horizon is high as in an eastern landscape, a device also frequently adopted by Fred Williams.
Leaves from a Book of Prayer – is probably the most directly religious painting in the exhibition, which was scheduled for around Easter. The ground suggests Arabic architecture or a monastery for scholarship. A book of prayer holds the promise of being a repository of distilled wisdom about how best to live. The pages of such books, once made literally of leaves, are known still as leaves of a book.