Jenny Mulcahy reports on her recent involvement with a Queensland anniversary project
Last year Queensland was awash with a variety of activities and projects celebrating the 150th anniversary of the official recognition of Queensland as a separate colony. Many organisations received funding for celebrations specific to individual communities to mark the occasion. One such project was Q150, Now and Then: 150 years of art making in Queensland. Curated by Ross Searl,for the Umbrella Studio for Contemporary Art, the exhibition’s emphasis was on the history of art making in Townsville over the past 150 years.
After much deliberation, fifteen historically significant artworks conveying stories and scenes from Townsville’s past were selected by the curator from a number of permanent collections. The works ranged from a traditional work by Arthur Streeton to a painting by Judy Watson and an assemblage by Tom Risley. Once the artworks had been selected, fifteen artists (with me the only ceramic artist) were invited to create a contemporary response to the historical works, with each being allocated a specific work.
The work I was allocated was a pastel diptych by Brisbane artist Margaret Wilson. The abstract works, created in 1988 and entitled Blue Entrance1 and Blue Entrance 2, depict Wilson’s interpretation of the entrance to Townsville Harbour as seen from a ferry at dusk as it returns from Magnetic Island. The works, in deep blues, blacks and greys, capture the tonal changes of the landscape at twilight with the sharp angles of the break-walls intruding into planes of water.
I was very familiar with the landscape depicted by Wilson as I travel regularly on the ferry and also, as a member of an outrigger canoe club, regularly train at dusk in the very spot depicted in Wilson’s work. However, being used to creating work in response to my own concepts, it took a while to get my head around how best to respond to these particular drawings and another’s concept. A large number of approaches were tried and discarded as none struck a chord with me until I decided to depict what it felt like to actually be a part of, to be within, that landscape.
Thus Silence of the Creek came into being, and portrays what it feels like as we paddle our canoes up the creek at dusk into a landscape that is all dark, dark blue breaking to silver, and silvery grey where the fading light hits the water with flashes of white as the canoes’ amas (outrigger floats) catch the very last of the day’s light.
Each canoe was constructed in a solid form using a mix of clay, paper and perlite and then allowed to dry to the stage where the form was self-supporting. They were then hollowed out in the same fashion as dug-out canoes and the final shapes formed. When dry they were heavily sanded back and coated with numerous coats of subtly coloured terra-sigillata, then buffed until they had a high sheen, and finally fired.
The seven canoes were assembled on resin supports (which had been individually cast to suit the various sizes) on top of a Perspex sheet which in turn overlaid a pastel drawing similar in colour to the original Margaret Wilson work.
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