Embarking on the Journey

Many people have asked me where I source my ideas from and what inspires me as an artist. This is one of three blogs that will take you on a river journey, much like I do through my drawings, feelings, connections, and experiences with the River that I love.

When I say the River, I encompass the gnarled and twisted old-growth trees along the riverbank. I called these trees Sanctuary Trees because of their long lives, and the habitat they provide for many creatures. I include the variety of native flora and fauna and the floodplains. They exist in a rich riparian landscape, a meeting of River and Tree (Land), a flourishing place between.

Introducing the Mighty Clarence

I live near Grafton, northern NSW and have my studio at Seelands, right beside the Clarence River.

The Clarence River is called the Mighty Clarence for good reason. It deserves our respect. The Clarence River is 394 kilometres long. The Clarence Valley is Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung and Yaegl Country, and the Clarence River is the largest coastal river system with the largest catchment (over 22,000 square kilometres) in New South Wales.

When I first moved to my home and studio at Seelands, a further 30 kilometres inland by River upstream from Grafton, I was confronted by my first ever experience of a flood. It was the historic 100 year flood in 2013, where the River rose over 20 metres upstream outside our home. When the River is in flood the huge floodplain becomes a powerful sea, flowing with unimaginable power. In front of my eyes surging flooding waters swallowed our tall Callistemon trees whole. The River makes this sound that is so profound, so deep, that I feel it viscerally in my gut.

I am in awe of its magnificence and power. And not just when in flood. It could be during the early morning mist subtly softening the dawn of a new day, or the silvery highlights of the afternoon sun glistening and dancing across the River’s surface, constantly reminding me of its ever-changing flowing presence.

Introducing my practice

You cannot help but work with the Clarence River when you live in this Valley. The River is a dominating living presence that affects everything that goes on.

In my art practice I explore these riparian landscapes through drawing, mixed media and installation and have developed a personal sense of kinship with particular trees. Each visit enables a deeper learning of the subject. In the field I make ‘tree portraits’ that are literally imbued with the waters and sediments of the River.

During the devasting floods in the Northern Rivers earlier this year, I dragged huge lengths of heavy, wet paper up and down the steep bank of the Clarence River at Seelands. The painting of the Water Gum (depicted in the attached imagery) is stained by the River in flood, it records the rising of this most historic flood.

Trees are inextricably part of the waters of the Clarence Valley – they steady the waters across ground, along the bank and underwater, during floods and out of floods. They are critical for the health of the River. They provide shade and cool the waters and habitat for wildlife.

For me, this is beauty in the true sense of the word – these gnarled, twisted, old-growth trees are living evidence of strength, endurance and adaptation to their environment. I want to share my joy of these huge old trees and their vital connection to the river I love in the hope it will increase appreciation of and respect for riparian landscapes.

Three 2.5m – 3.5m drawings are destined for exhibition at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba. The three graphic tree portraits have accompanying sound by Will Rodgers, sound ecologist and musician and fine metal sculptures by Tracy Pateman.

‘Confluence’ is the name of our work together. This installation is part of a group show Water: Presence and Absence at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba, curator Rilka Oakley, opening 9th December, 2022. Exhibition runs till January 29.

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