24″x16″ oil on panel
Among the many tragic and difficult things we all were forced to confront in 2020, the fires in Australia (and in California, the Amazon, etc.), were very difficult for me to face square on. My conversation about the fires in Australia with my friend, the very fine (Australian) poet James Walton, help me come to terms with the devastation and loss of animal, including human, life. And, those conversations lead first to a charcoal sketch, (purchased by another friend and another very fine poet Doug May) and then to this more finished oil painting. The painting below is adapted from three late 19th and early 20th century photos of Australian Aboriginal people and a later 20th century photo from our family archives. The painting is intended to address the theme of the imposition of outside forces (people, cultures, ideologies, etc.) on a native civilization that has learn to balance its relationship with nature over a period of integration with the land that, in the case of Australian aborigines may be as old as 70,000 years. There are many who feel that the fires in Australia were exacerbated by the failure of Europeans colonizing Australia to understand and integrate with the Australian ecologies (and failure to learn from indigenous people) and, after so many centuries, the hubris and antipathy toward the natural world culminated in massive conflagration. I fear this is probably just the beginning.
My painting is an attempt to capture a fulcrum when things changed, not for the best. On a superficial level it depicts the day and transcendent moment Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay. But, on a deeper level, the painted conveys a foreboding – the premonition of consequences that we need to recognize and account for, and that we need to build into our decision-making about how to live on this earth.
I used only 3 colors. Colors of fire, smoke and soot – Indian yellow, sepia extra (dark brown) and ivory black. I can’t say that producing a painting to understand a problem, in this case a terrible problem, is a catharsis. It still fills me with sorrow to look at this painting and re-experience the loss. But, it does help me with some kind of understanding. I feel closer to the problem, more exposed, and in that way at least adequately aware.
All of the figures are male and are intended to be entranced looking at the terrible, confusing thing that arrives. The one figure turned away, (probably wailing – certainly profoundly distressed) is the pregnant female. She is the seer. I feel very sure that if we are going to survive as a species, if we are not going to lose almost everything, (all flora and fauna), it will be the result of the return to preeminence of our core Mother Energy.