Ross River, East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory – landscape painting


August 2016

Painting out in the landscape is always a challenge. Perhaps no-one can claim to be a landscape painter unless they paint plein air? Although, following a recent visit to the Drill Hall, ANU, to answer that question, Nolan painted one of his most important paintings  Riverbend from memory, not a specific location, but he did have imagination, experience, and connection to country to make that possible. Great read on the topic: Simon Schama’s  Landscape and memory.

That’s the challenge – being out there. The wilderness and pursuit of the sublime. Turner claimed to have lashed himself to a ship’s mast in a gale to get ‘it’ – the inspiration/expression: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off Harbour’s Mouth (1842). Not quite, but similar experience to a night in a tent in high wind in the East MacDonnell Ranges to get the work happening the next day.

Experienced all weather conditions at the Ross River camp: from sub zero to high 20s, wind, mist, fog, light rain, torrential rain, plus flies, bees, moths, and a snake. Unforgettable petroglyphs (Aboriginal engraved rock art) and geology, especially the stromatolites*. It was totally unpredictable from one day to the next, and that is a real positive for action painting where anything can happen. It’s all about chance. Art materials behaved completely differently from one day to the next as black ink turned to tar, and acrylic paint turned to cement as soon as it hit the palette. Best days were the rain days when ink went in all directions – perfect for attempts at gestural abstraction and one shot action painting.

*stromatolite – a calcareous mound built up of layers of lime-secreting cyanobacteria and trapped sediment, found in Precambrian rocks as the earliest known fossils, and still being formed in lagoons in Australasia. (Oxford Dictionary definition).

Some photos of locations and attempts at painting below.

Sense of place


Waterhole Ross River Crossing


Bloomfield Bluff


Anticline in the rain


Local critics


Evening after the storm


N’Dhala Gorge


Petroglyph N’Dhala Gorge


Cave N’Dhala Gorge


The Sphinx


Trephina Gorge



Painful, but some progress. Aiming for structure, line, texture, and tone. Another step on the learning curve.


View from Ross River Camp


View from Ross River Camp- rain day


N’Dhala Gorge


Piece of the Sphinx – scroll – day 7


The Sphinx


Trephina Gorge


Rock Overhang


Rock Overhang


Exhibition installation


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