This is the second of three blogs that takes you on a river journey, much like I do through my drawing processes which encompass the feelings, connections, and experiences with the River and Trees that I love. This blog is about the creative processes to make these three large-scale Tree drawings as part of the installation ‘Confluence’. with Tracy Pateman and Will Rodgers in the group exhibition ‘Water: presence and absence’.
Fostering a kinship with the Trees at water level
I skim low across the river’s surface and come upon a remnant stand of grand old trees. They are twisted and gnarled, shaped by powerful surges of the river in flood. I edge closer, manoeuvring around splayed, overhanging limbs to feel their living presence. I sit quietly, breathing their expelled air and enjoying the cool shade and habitat of the crowns above.
In the kayak, I am at the same level as the impressive curled and knotted roots that twist through and around rock and silt, exposed in parts as fibrous networks supporting the riverbank.
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. They exist in a rich riparian landscape, a meeting of river and land, a flourishing place between.
Each visit enables a deeper learning of the subject where I am developing a type of kinship with a particular tree. I embed this connection into the ‘tree portraits’ I make.
To-and-fro with the River
I trudge down the long, steep slope to the Riverbank where I live and cautiously slurp through the thick squelchy river mud that grips my feet and ankles, taking with me a once-pristine sheet of Arches paper. I unroll it across the River’s surface and eagerly await what the River brings. Every day the offering is distinctive.
Through experimentation and play, I collaborate with the River to make drawings and installations. In some drawings I work over river sediment. In others I immerse them, often in pouring rain, in a process of river staining that merges with gouache colours I have already applied wet on wet, wet on dry, or pencil markings dry on dry in the studio.
In the field, the ‘tree portraits’ are literally imbued with the waters and sediments of the River where they live.
Making the Tree portraits
A portrait comes into being as a large-scale drawing on a length of paper that varies from 2.5 to 3.5 metres. The fragility and strength of the paper substrate is central to my process of immersing drawings in the River. The 350gsm Arches paper is strong and malleable in the River for a limited period. As a plant-based product it absorbs the River sediment, minerals, clay and accidental mud stains. This process changes the qualities of the pencil and gouache markings I make in the studio and infuses them into the paper surface (much like etching does). I understand this to-and-fro process of experimentation and play as a collaboration with the River.
Hung vertically in the gallery, the towering scale of these large drawings shifts the viewer’s experience. They must tilt their head up to see the canopy and down to see the roots, just as they would in the landscape. The immensity of each Tree and the magnificence of the River are literally and experientially embedded into the drawings to remind us of our place in the world.
Collaborations with the Artists
Rochelle Summerfield with Tracy Pateman (silversmith and fine metal artist) and Will Rodgers (sound ecologist and musician). Together, we have created an installation ‘Confluence’ from three site specific areas of the Clarence River. We are connected by the Clarence River, from their headwaters at the watershed of the Great Dividing Range, to their vast estuary and floodplain that runs 100 kilometres inland.
We selected three old-growth trees that indicate these areas; the Granite Belt the Mountain Orange Gum (Eucalyptus prava), at Seelands the Water Gum (Tristaniopsis laurina), and at Ashby the grey mangrove (Avicennia marina). We call these trees Sanctuary trees because of their old growth and the habitat and valuable service they provide to the River.
Will Rodger’s exquisite soundscapes draw inspiration from the diversity of the sonic environment of each of the three site-specific Sanctuary trees. The acoustic elements include some of this diversity such as insect calls, amphibian trills, birdsong, water flow, as well as human sounds such as farming and traffic.
Tracy’s wire installation draws on the shapes and patterns of the fused and fibrous root systems of the trees, patterns of water movement and the native insects to describe the relationship between the trees, habitat, and the water. Some of her work responds to the graphic marks of the tree drawings.
Our collective practice is as much about conversation and mutual understandings and valuing the natural environment as it is with art production. We do on-ground and practical work is in reciprocal exchange with our creative practice.
The installation ‘Confluence’ is being exhibited at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba for the exhibition ‘Water: presence & absence’ , Curator Rilka Oakley. Opening 9th December and show runs 29th January 2023. Click here to find out more information.