19. Australia Road Trip - The Art of Australia
The Nature of Art
But is it Art?
The Art of Australia as viewed from on the Road.
The continent of Australia itself is arguably one giant piece of art. The peculiarity of the light – sometimes bright, stark and photographic, other times watery and shimmering - cobalt blue skies, squeezed straight from the tube; red, terra cotta, yellow ochre, burnt umber - the palette of the desert; trees - ghost-gum white; indefinable shades of green verging on grey; golden sandstones veined with pinks and crimsons. Sculptural cliffs, conceptual trees, minimalist landscapes; impressionistic brush strokes delineating distant mountain ranges - these are the works of nature that inspire and compel Aussies to create art, wherever they go.
Our environment inspires us to create imagery and shapes that give meaning to our place in this landscape. Aussies have always been at it, (making art that is - dirty minds!). In the bush a mile or so from the township of Bundeena, just south of Sydney, the Dharawal people carved beautifully proportioned shapes onto the surface of a flat sandstone slab. The shapes are portraits of the creatures that the Dharawal shared the land and sea with – whales, rays, sunfish, wallabies. Art survives the centuries. On the west coast, someone unknown has planted a large plank of weathered timber that was once part of a house or a ship, driftwood – now art, framed against the sea and sky.
For art's sake
Aussies are sentimentalists too. For those outside the art world there is no snobbery attached to painting a patriotic mural, or a wall of remembrance for loved ones lost. We don’t just dedicate a park bench to a drowned surfer, we create a mosaic-covered picnic table depicting his brief but exciting life on a rugged headland overlooking the stormy sea that claimed him. Art with meaning, art to share. We like to paint what we see, what we know and what we like, and God damn it, we’ll paint it where we like too… we are natural graffitists. Walls, bus shelters, tin sheds, footpaths, cars, we don’t care. You will see Aussie art wherever you go, from the heart of hectic, mental Sydney to the red heart of the centre. In the tradition of great artists such as Albert Namatjira, we love to depict our landscape with those rich earthy colours; but we even have our own Lowry in the form of Pro Hart – ‘Brushman of the Bush,’ who immortalised the miners of Broken Hill in painting and sculpture, his canvases ranging from shovels to a Rolls Royce.
We like to advertise our lives with big murals and flashy typography; the outside of our old Sydney pubs were once decorated with colourful posters of cricketers, rugby league players, Jockeys and Lifesavers… and we still celebrate our heroes and national icons with giant murals of stockmen on the sides of outback pubs.
Black and White Australia has a colourful history of co-existence – mostly bloody, dark and dirty – but the artistic eye of Aboriginal Australia is what influences us all now. The first white settlers tried to paint Australia in the English pastoral style. A land where green is virtually impossible to define cannot be made to look like Devon or Suffolk. Once whitefellas learned to look at the landscape they too discovered the palette of the earth that colours our land and that peculiar southern hemisphere light that creates those colours. Once we learned to look beyond the confines of European society we began to capture and create our own culture so much so that our art is continually in Renaissance.
Drive around Australia looking for art and you might not come across a Mona Lisa, but you will almost certainly see the odd Sistine Chapel splashed across a brick wall, slapped onto a tin shed, sketched onto a slab of rock or dabbed on to an abandoned Beetle on the side of road in the middle of nowhere.
Art of Oz on the road- A Gallery
Aussie Artist - Sidney Nolan
Aussie Artist - Albert Namatjira
Aussie Artist - William Dobell
Aussie artist - Arthur Streeton
Where to next?
- 20 Australian Road Trip: Into the Big Volcano, Byron Bay and beyond
The Road Trip continues as Mick and Sheila enter one of the most picturesque and popular regions on the the entire continent - the beautiful sub-tropical paradise around Byron Bay.