In July 2011 it was a great privilege to be able to camp at Mpwelarre a small Aboriginal outstation about 30km northwest of Rainbow Valley, 75km south of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Pristine sandstone country with sandstone remnants of an ancient inland sea (from 350 million years ago). Incredible sandstone formations shaped by wind and rain, like being on the coast except it is in Central Australia.
As on most expeditions, painted a scroll in ink of landscape features plus some drawings and attempts at watercolour.
This expedition in retrospect was all about colour. At Mpwelarre, like Rainbow Valley, the sandstone is topped with iron-rich sandstone that has dissolved through the sandstone to create deep red/orange abstract surfaces, often represented in indigenous art from central Australia (see reference below Emily Kame Kngwarreye).
The landscape has features shaped like a mushroom and an owl (see below) and where, while sitting silently, you can hear the sandstone rocks slowly disintegrating.
The sunset at Rainbow Valley produced an amazing light show with colour changing moment by moment. Yet again nature left us completely mesmerised. No artists’ colour palette could do the experience justice.
As on most expeditions I had a close encounter with some local critics. In this case with some local horses, a Franz Marc moment while sketching under a desert oak (see below). Being friendly but not realising that the horses were territorial, I whistled and they started trotting towards me. It became obvious they resented my presence in their environment by snorting and pawing the ground. I tried some humour (a Billy Crystal meets Gene Wilder moment): hi ho Silver, hey were you a co-star in My Friend Flicker, hey Mr Ed your tail’s on fire. Seemed to backfire badly, outback horses are definitely not into a bit of snappy wisecracking, probably never been saddled with anything.
With my back pinned to the desert oak, I thought it was the end, trampled to death in the central Australian desert. Luckily, somehow I managed to call their bluff. I hid the drawing of the desert oak, kept low and quiet, avoided eye contact until they lost interest and moved on. As I walked calmly back to camp, camels appeared on the horizon. I needed a drink. I knew you can’t bluff a feral camel, they would recognise a fake pleinairist in an instant.
Sense of place
Mpwelarre camp site 27/7/2011
Mpwelarre near the camp 27/7/2011
Rock face abstract 28/7/2011
The Mushroom 28/7/2011
Local camel critics 28/7/2011
The Owl 28/7/2011
Desert Oak 28/7/2011
Sandstone sculpture 29/7/2011
Sandstone cliff wall 29/7/2011
View from my swag and painting location 30/7/2011
Rainbow Valley sunset 31/7/2011
Rainbow Valley dusk 31/7/2011
Local horse critics 1/8/2011
Drawings, ink and watercolour sketches
Emily Kame Kngwarreye, My Country 1996
Franz Marc The Tower of Blue Horses 1913