Updated: May 29
I’ve just written a few lines about the latest painting in a series entitled “Giving Voice”. The collection is about creatures affected by fire speaking their truth. The description I wrote is deeply pertinent in this moment as the Corona Virus eclipses all else, including the headlines that, just a few weeks’ ago, were ablaze with stories of the catastrophic fires.
So, here we are. Forced to see ourselves as one, experiencing the divinity and power of cooperation to secure the fate of the greater good. It’s taken a virus to halt our progression into the abyss of greed and want over need. We are at a crossroads and in this state of a capitalism induced coma from which we will wake up damaged and broken there will be a gift that will come in the answer to a single question. What defines quality of life? The natural rhythms of a life sustaining planet or the insatiable desire to consume and with it the collateral damage done to innocent living things? Surely, this virus, as tragic and unforgiving as it is, holds within it a kernel of truth and within that, hope.
Jump back a catastrophe and flames were licking at our comfort zones and igniting a sense of climatic foreboding. Homes burned with the livelihoods of thousands of people who were left without a sense of belonging, place, purpose or identity. Humanity came face to face with vulnerability and communities rallied with the allies of courage, fellowship and generosity. A photo will always lead a story and some of the most heartbreaking and heartening imagery splashed into our field of vision were of people rescuing and saving the lives of our precious and dwindled wildlife.
Out of this extraordinary example of human kindness came a series of paintings that rose out of those flames. Paintings that are as much a reflection of the human conditions as those of the animals speaking their truth.
The first out of the nest was ‘Black Swan with Firestick’. A tool used for cultural cold burning practices, the Cape York firestick is made of beeswax dotted with flammable red Jequirity (Abrus) seeds. Looking like a modern-day mic, the swan speaks of our need to listen to our First Nations Peoples and employ their knowledge of ancient land management principles, such as the cold burn. Cold burning the land is done in small patches determined by reading the land. It is chosen so animals can escape and is timed according to seasons and plant cycles leaving seeds and nutrients intact.
Out of those ashes came ‘Quit’, a self-explanatory image of a seagull extinguishing a burning cigarette butt with his unprotected webbed foot. You can almost hear the collective sharp intake of breath.
There were so many brutal images of burned marsupials in care, their pink bandages protecting their raw extremities. I began to paint the scene of a joey, orphaned and in a land stripped bare. Above him a moon, more like an ominous black hole in a stellar sky. His bandages were intact at first and I asked my boys what they thought the message should be. We pondered and shared ideas and all seemed too complex. The scene was so sad and lonely. Connecting to the total loss for this poor creature I just leaned over and extended one bandage in a simple line of pink, looked back towards my sons and said ‘Unravelling’.
The fourth painting in the series came to me after I had seen a photo of an echidna whose spines had been burned to their quick. I was on the cusp of sleep when I saw an echidna, face on. Some of his spines were red tipped explosive matches as floating embers fill the night sky. His unexcited flaccid tongue attempts connection with an expired, dehydrated ant. Hence came ‘Tinder’.
Another tragedy in the fall-out was the ineffectual leadership of our Prime Minister. I read stories of animals seeking shelter in burrows dug by wombats. Much like creatures behave in floods when enemies gather on high ground and drop any notion that they are predator and prey. Thus I dug up ‘Leading’, A wombat guarding the burrow out of which protrudes evidence of a quoll, a snake and a goanna.
My frustration with the post European settlement mob for not giving due respect to our First Nations family, especially when we can see how badly we have damaged the natural world in comparison to their 120,000 years of experience and wisdom as custodians of this ancient land, is what gave rise to this little phoenix. A bird that flaunts the colours of the Aboriginal flag; the brush turkey. It is time to walk the talk and so was born ‘It’s Time to Talk Wollum (Turkey)’. Wollum is the Bundjalung name for Turkey.
And, most recently, the latest addition. The icon of the fires, a koala, already so diminished by habitat loss, sits foetal-like on a newspaper made from his trees. A copy of the Financial Review. Given the Corona focus, I named this painting ‘Yesterday’s News’.
There will be 12 paintings in the series. Gone is my self-focus of selling paintings for a living. I am now intent on selling paintings for lives.
The rights to use these images will be offered to organisations that care for wildlife so they can campaign and fundraise. Considering there are twelve in the series, a calendar would be a wonderful idea, don’t you think? If you have any thoughts along these lines please get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org
The originals are for sale and the entire collection will be launched on the website once complete. The next one is already underway and in these times of isolation it won’t be long til you hear from me.
Please, all of you, abide by the notion that we are here for the greater good. Look after your health and the health of others. Til soon,