Inspiration Landscapes: Commissioned by Craft ACT for the 2017 Artist-In-Residence Catalogue
Art would never be able to exist without nature. (Pierre Bonnard)
It’s night in Namadgi National Park. Cold. Clear. No moon. I’m out here alone, layered in thermals, frost forming on my hair, chilled fingers tucked under armpits. I’m supposed to be radio-tracking kangaroos, but the sky stops me with its scattered curtain of flung stars. I lie on the silver grass and gaze into the universe, listening to the crackle of the bush, the snipping teeth of kangaroos grazing nearby, tiny creatures rustling in tussocks. In the distance I see the faint outline of domed granite peaks. Everything is old and new, miniscule and large, near and far, magical. I feel whole. Alive. By day, it is different but the same. Instead of sound and shades of grey, it is light and texture and colour that speak. Patterns. Shadows. Smell.
This is the space in which creativity begins. When a soul is moved, a seed germinates and art may be born. For me, the wide grassy valleys of Namadgi and the surrounding granite crags triggered the idea for my novel, The Grass Castle. The first fronds of story came from the sound of wind in the eaves of the old Orroral Valley homestead. I thought about the settlers who had lived there, and the Indigenous moth-hunters who roved the mountains before them, connected to country. Place, light and air gave rise to story, along with the loneliness of the valley, and hints of the past in the newspaper-lined walls of the hut, other ruined buildings, old fences laced with lichen. I wanted to use my writing to explore the way history and the environment are interwoven. The way the natural world shapes us in contrast to the ways in which we change the world.
My ecologist husband derives inspiration from nature in a different way. As a scientist, he seeks to measure and understand the environment, to explore links between habitat and animals, and gather data to help explain ecosystems. He has strong spiritual bonds with the natural world too, and when we walk in wild places, while I am thinking of words to create pictures, he is looking at patterns in landscapes and thinking about how it all fits together, how to test ideas and develop hypotheses. The environment as stimulus for science. For word-artists like me, it’s all about mood.
The urge to represent nature through art stretches back through millennia. At Yankee Hat in Namadgi National Park, Indigenous artists who lived in the region prior to white occupation, painted images of people and animals on granite rock using natural pigments. Art as a form of expression and passing on story. Art as a way of relating to the world.
Nature’s powerful influence on art may come from a primal connection to landscape through our ancestors. Perhaps we carry memories buried in our DNA, because when we leave the urban environment and take pause in nature, when we stop to breathe, when we linger long enough to rediscover our true selves, peace, gratitude and inspiration can be found. In this space, we can locate our inner flame of creativity. Whether we use this energy to develop art that reflects nature, or whether we use it to motivate other projects, doesn’t matter. What matters is recognising opportunity and capitalising on it. While the muse burns we must tap into it and channel this force into our work.
Nature gets into our souls and opens doors to hidden parts of ourselves. (Pamela Heyda)
Why are nature and landscape so important as a source of inspiration for art? And what motivates us to create art? Who do we speak to? Why do we do it? The answers to these questions are as complex and varied as the many forms of art we use to convey our responses to nature. We may strive to capture what we see in a real or abstract way, through painting, photography, poetry or craft. Or we may want to share our experience with others and show them how we have been moved. In this busy world of increasingly urban existence, we may wish to remind people of our origins, of the country around us, of places where we can find peace and beauty outside the madness of our daily lives. We may work to motivate people to care about natural places, because if we care about country, then we value it and we may also fight to save it, especially as the climate changes and human populations increase and we continue to expand our impact on the Earth.
A poet ought not to pick nature's pocket. Let him borrow, and so borrow as to repay by the very act of borrowing. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
The natural environment can be the muse or it can feed the muse. It can be the trigger for art or it can be a space where art is made. Artists finds a place that speaks to them, and they work within it, responding to scale, story, patterns, light. Sometimes all of these. There is also the communion with others that can be found in nature: the multiplicative effect that arises when shared passion exists between artists – a bright form of energy which not only motivates work, but which also lends confidence to tackle new things. It’s no surprise that most retreats for artists are in quiet places, close to nature.
Now it is daytime and I am driving south of Tharwa beneath a cloud strewn-sky through parched landscapes and into straggly forest, country that has recovered from wildfire. The road changes to gravel and winds through shady gullies fragrant with lemon and peppermint. It traverses a stream and switches and climbs, rising over contours.
I take the turn to Gudgenby, driving through open country, up past the shadowy homestead and on to the smaller rustic weatherboard Ready-Cut cottage – a place where artists come to work. Stepping outside, I inhale mountain air tangy with the rich aroma of grass. Already, tension is fading and lightness is settling on my skin – that lovely sensation of the soul expanding.
This is a place where art is made.