• TERRA SPIRITUS ... with a darker shade of pale

    TERRA SPIRITUS ... with a darker shade of pale 1993-1998

    Bea MADDOCK

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    This drawing comprises 51 individual parts and depicts the entire coastline of Tasmania. Each feature has been labelled with both the English and Aboriginal topographic names, acknowledging language’s power in creating meaning and shaping our world view. Maddock’s choice of medium is also telling: she has used pigments made from native Tasmanian ochres to make this drawing.
  • L.L. The wish being the father to the thought

    L.L. The wish being the father to the thought 1989

    Stephen BUSH

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    At the time when contemporary artist Stephen Bush painted LL: the wish being the father to the thought, his interest lay in questioning European representations of the Australian landscape and interrogating historical conventions such as ‘the picturesque’ and ‘the sublime’. Often depicting colonial subjects such as settlers and explorers, many of his paintings from this period recall the narrative tradition of nineteenth-century Australian paintings.

    In this painting, Bush refers to the colonial explorer Ludwig Leichardt (b.1813) who vanished while attempting a northern transcontinental crossing of Australia in 1848. The gigantic sculptural head is both a portrait of the lost explorer and an imaginary reference to a possible relic from his ill-fated expedition.

  • Melancholy landscape I

    Melancholy landscape I (2007)

    Imants TILLERS

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    Melancholy Landscape I is inspired by the physical environment of Cooma, a town in the southern highlands of New South Wales in which Imants Tillers lives. Tillers’s calligraphic-like rendering of the landscape evokes the dry grasslands of this region and also recalls the paintings of Australian artist Fred Williams. Influenced by the belief of the French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé that ‘everything, in the world, exists to end up in a book’, this work belongs to the ongoing series of paintings that Tillers has produced since the early 1980s called the Book of Power.
  • brumby mound #6

    brumby mound #6 2003

    Rosemary LAING

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    This grandly-scaled photograph was taken as part of a long-term project titled One dozen natural disasters in the Australian landscape. The series had its genesis in Laing’s first substantial photographic work in which she considered the problematic nature of Australia’s Bicentennial year within the context of nationhood and belonging. This later body of work considers the notion of ‘Australian identity’, namely (as Laing writes), ‘the predicament of a disembodied “un-belonging” that has a correspondence with the experience of non-indigenous Australia’.

    These two works continue Laing’s improbable interventions within the Australian countryside through the placement of incongruent suburban objects – such as domestic carpet and furniture – within sublime landscape settings.

  • The organisation of the view

    The organisation of the view (2005)

    Valerie SPARKS

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    This monumental print takes its cue from the nineteenth-century block-printed scenic wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique, manufactured by Joseph Dufour & Co. in France in 1804–05. In order to create impossible landscapes that appear so real they could exist, Valerie Sparks constructs her images from photographs scanned into the computer and built up layer by layer, in a process that loosely imitates the development of traditionally printed images through progressive states.

    Most of the plants in this work were photographed in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, while other landscape elements come from locations as diverse as Central Australia and Hinchinbrook Island in Queensland. Because they have been photographed at different times of the day, at various times of the year and from varied perspectives, disorienting shifts of light and shade occur throughout.

  • Psychotourism

    Psychotourism (1996); (1998) {printed}

    Patricia PICCININI

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    In her Psycho series, Patricia Piccinini examines the relationship between medicine and consumerism, producing poster-sized images that mimic the familiar glossy look of advertising. The ‘product’ Piccinini entices us with is the ultimate end-game of genetic engineering and advertising; as she says, ‘[A] human form completely redesigned by an engineer and an ad agency; physiognomically efficient and marketably cute.’

    Psychogeography presents the actress Sophie Lee as an archetypal successful career woman and mother, encouraging her genetically modified child (LUMP or Life Form with Unresolved Mutant Properties) to survey the landscape that surrounds them. The various elements in this constructed landscape – azure sky, glacial mountains, golden sands and crystal water – are curiously familiar but are reconfigured and enhanced to such a degree that they are startling in their artificiality.


How we see, understand and experience the environment is subjective, shaped by the time and culture in which we live. Contemporary artists view the environment differently to earlier artists, and also review and reference the art of earlier artists to present new perspectives.

  • Colonial constructions

    Stephen Bush revisits early European representations of the Australian landscape through his paintings, which often feature colonial subjects. LL: the wish being the father to the thought 1989 refers to the colonial explorer Ludwig Leichardt who vanished while attempting a transcontinental crossing of Australia in 1848. The sculptural head is both a portrait of the lost explorer and an imaginary reference to a possible relic from his ill-fated expedition.

    Similarly, Bea Maddock questions early colonial views of the land through her epic drawing Terra Spiritus... With a Darker Shade of Pale 1993–1998 that depicts the entire coastline of Tasmania. Each feature has been labelled with both the English and Aboriginal topographic names, acknowledging and questioning language’s power to shape our world view.

  • Landscape of ideas

    Imants Tillers’s Melancholy Landscape I 2007 was inspired by the town of Cooma in New South Wales where he now lives. The gestural brushstrokes allude to the work of Fred Williams and his role as a dominant figure in Australian landscape painting.

    Like Maddock, Tillers uses text to powerful effect, referencing the work of French poet Stéphane Mallarmé and including words such as ‘extinguished’, ‘denied’ and ‘unknown’, which have potent meaning in relation to the ownership of land in Australian history.

    The dramatic desert landscape in Brumby mound #6 2003 by Rosemary Laing recalls, at first glance, both the outback paintings of Drysdale and Nolan, and glossy travel brochures for the ‘red centre’. Closer inspection shows that the foreground of this photographic image is populated with items of suburban home furniture painted to mimic their surroundings. Their presence suggests an uneasy relationship between the natural and cultural landscape.

  • Imagining the future

    Like Laing, Patricia Piccinini in Psychogeography references a culturally familiar landscape yet the elements within it are startling in their artificiality. The Australian actress Sophie Lee features in this photographic work as an archetypal career woman and mother holding her genetically modified ‘child’. This is one of many works in which Piccinini presents a vision of a futuristic world where a desire to perfect nature has led to unexpected results.

  • An impossible landscape

    Valerie Sparks is interested in creating landscapes that, as she says, ‘appear to be so real that they should exist, but are impossible at the same time’.  To achieve this she rescales photographs using digital technologies, assembling them in a composite view, and works on a large scale so that when looking at the final images we are immersed in her virtual world.

    Sparks’s The organisation of the view 2005 combines photographs of plants with other landscape elements photographed in diverse locations around Australia. These photographs have been shot at different times of the day and from varied perspectives. This creates disorienting shifts between the play of light and shadow, and a hyper-real, filmic feel.

Endnotes