This is part 3 of a three-blog series taking you through my processes of creating my monumental sized tree drawings. The trees are found along the Clarence River in the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl First Nations Country, within the Clarence Valley Council border in Northern NSW. I acknowledge past, present and future Elders of this beautiful land that I am fortunate to walk upon.

In my previous blogs, I spoke to how I work in the field developing kinships with a particular tree. Each visit, and mostly by kayak is a learning of the subject. Through sketching, recording and being with the Tree, I embed this connection into the ‘tree portraits’ I make.

Part of this process is bathing long three-metre sized sheets of art paper in the Clarence River, working wet in wet with the River. With my feet submerged into soft mud and the River’s energy swirling around me, the ever-changing movements create unique effects on the paper. I must then lift the heavy, damp paper and myself out of the River and trudge gently and carefully up the steep slope to the studio. I work wet on wet with the River sediment and later wet on dry, with gouache and graphite to find the essence and character of each Tree.

The towering scale of these large works in the Gallery space, shifts the viewer’s perspective and positions them as smaller than the artwork. The immensity of each Tree and the magnificence of the River underpins the strong relationship between these two key elements of the landscape. It reminds us of our place in the world. I want to share my joy of these old growth trees and their vital connection to the river I love, in the hope it will increase appreciation of and respect for riparian landscapes.

‘Confluence’ was the title for our installation and the three artists include Tracy Pateman, silversmith and maker in small metals and Will Rodgers, Acoustic Ecologist and musician and me, drawings. The support and inspiration for each other’s creative practice and the practical on-ground environmental work we do, informs our practices and assists towards the care of River and Country.

‘Confluence’ was showcased at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (BMCC), 10 December 2022- 29 January 2023 curator Rilka Oakley, for the exhibition ‘WATER: presence & absence’.

We arrived. And it was very exciting…

What a beautiful place to stay for the set-up of our installation, the World Heritage Blue Mountains. These magnificent sandstone escarpments span very ancient country of the Ngurra (Country) of the Dharug and Gundungurra peoples, who love, respect and care for every and all, parts of Country.

We greeted staff and brought in our treasures, which we have been working on for over a year. As we walked in, a cherry picker was high up in the Gallery’s dome-like ceiling with international First Nations artist Judy Watson’s artworks. They were arranged floating overhead as if clouds, draping softly to almost touch us below.

With a gulp of trepidation at such distinguished artists I began by laying out my three drawings on the floor. We placed the Trees in their unique space, to denote the different site-specific habitats of the Clarence River, from the headwaters of the Granite Belt, to midstream and then across the floodplains before the mouth to the ocean.

Once the drawings were in place, Will arranged his site responsive soundscapes by placing each amplifier near the respective tree. His work was the evocative riparian resonances of the Clarence River, which he describes as a ‘Sonic Journey’ of his travels along Biirinba, the Clarence River. What a joy to hear these recordings in this beautiful, white-walled gallery space. Whilst each of the three recordings were of different sites and sounds along the River, they created a harmony and an added an additional critical multi-dimensional element to the artworks.
Click here to listen to his recordings for the exhibition.

Tracy’s gorgeous small metalwork pieces were about the promise of new beginnings and the complexity of biodiversity. She had created seedlings of each tree from twisting copper wire into shapes of small saplings. She made very cute baby Mud Crabs, and gorgeous Blue Banded Native Bees, Caper White Butterflies and Katydids, all of which were hand-carved from metal, sanded and polished, exquisitely executed.

The drama and contrast between these intimate exquisite critters juxtaposed against such monumental drawings, with the resonances of the River and riparian wildlife is what is truly wondrous about the diversity in nature and, at times in art.

Click here to find out more information about the exhibition.

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