May 2009, first field trip to Central Australia. The location of the camp in Palm Valley in the West MacDonnell Ranges was spectacular: the amphitheatre of massive eroded landforms, the gorges, palm trees, water bleached rocks, and deep red earth after a long dry period. Struggling with drawing and watercolour, after a couple of days in an attempt to loosen up a bit, picked up a piece of palm frond from the flood debris wrapped around a tree near my swag, rolled out some paper on the ground, poured out some ink, thought about traditional Chinese scroll painting, abstract expressionist action painting, gesture drawing, and got into a rhythm. An attempt at combining calligraphy and action painting. Within about ten minutes produced an ink scroll with landscape features from around Palm Valley (see below). A breakthrough at last. Still practicing this on most field trips over the past eight years. I take what’s left of that palm frond and use a roll of Chinese paper as my sketchbook.
There is usually a close encounter with wildlife on these field trips. Anyone who has stayed at a Central Australian national park camp site will have a dingo (Canis dingo) story. Fortunately dingoes will not approach anything taller than themselves. On the first night, savouring the fresh, clean, dry, cold, desert night air, an escape from frenetic city work life, stargazing, stretched out in a swag, deep sleep. Suddenly the sound of a loud siren. Thought I’d been in a car accident, bright light shining into my eyes, but when fully awake realised it was the full moon. Sat bolt upright to witness fellow painter’s swag levitate to the sound of another blood curdling howl. To put it politely, a shout rang out something like ‘what in the name of hell was that’. Moved the swags closer to camp. Now wide awake and wide-eyed in this incredible place. The four legged shadows melted into the darkness. Then the howling chorus started. There must have been some youngsters given the high pitched timbre of some of the howls, sometimes solo, sometimes with the full chorus, sounded like at least a ten strong choir. The following night made sure everything was packed away, didn’t want to lose a boot, and our dingo friends kept their distance. The melodious dingo choir became a nightly soothing, reassuring, routine.
Sense of place
Sections of Palm Valley Scroll 12/5/2009
Huang Gongwang, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, 1350 Yuan dynasty
Essay by Hung Sheng.
‘Handscroll over 22 feet long. The format of the handscroll allows for multiple perspectives in the same painting, embracing the landscape’s breadth and depth along the river and mountains as a continuous journey progressing through time and space. A Chinese landscape is not a visual record of a particular day or a single view, but rather it captures the flow of traveling through changes in atmosphere and multiple perspectives. According to Huang’s own inscription on the handscroll, it took him three to four years to finish the painting. It was not consciously constructed, but executed in a spontaneous state. Huang added to the painting when the mood was right, using six sections of paper to create “The Master Wuyong Scroll.” Huang did not paint for the court or the art market, but painted for himself as form of leisure and self-expression.’
“The Remaining Mountain” section of the scroll, Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou
51.4 centimetres (a little more than 20 inches)
“The Master Wuyong Scroll,” section National Palace Museum in Taipei
636.9 centimetres (nearly 21 feet).
Brushstrokes: Styles and Techniques of Chinese Painting from the Asian Art MuseumEducation Department Asian Art Museum – Chong Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture (1995)