Years ago I somehow and unwillingly ended up teaching art. “Line” was in the syllabus and I became a bit obsessed with learning what it meant before I fronted year 7 who were well aware of my limitations: “You're not an art teacher, are you miss?” Suddenly my world was resolved into edges, outlines, verges, rims, borders, margins, perimeters, peripheries, boundaries, margins. That's all I saw. Fine in the familiarity of my Broken Hill home, but a bit disconcerting when I flew into Sydney airport and found the same thing happening there. I needed my airports to possess a third dimension.
It's happening again. This time my world is deconstructing into triangles, and my photographic eye trawls my landscape seeking out the triangular, sometimes enclosed by a third side, sometimes a third side only hinted at by absence, and sometimes sharp angles and straight lines wobbling into a Dali-esque swerve.
When I posted my collection of diagonals, one of my photographic mentors posed a new challenge. “It occurred to me to suggest that you also experiment with asymmetrical compositions in your photographs” she said, and sent me one of her photos as inspiration.
Fringe lily photographed by Rosemary Barnard
I can't pass by a good challenge, so I have indeed been experimenting. The experiments have changed the balance and focus in my photos, driven me back to photographing in landscape, and given me the opportunity to post old subject matter in a new guise. In this new mode, shadows and the patterns and textures of sand are highlighted rather than subdued by other subject matter and the part takes over from the whole.
It was Arthur Boyd who first introduced me to horizontal composition. What at first seemed banal, gradually revealed itself as a way of celebrating the landscape differently, almost archaeologically. Seascapes provide me with a perfect opportunity to capture the horizontal, although the paintings that caught my attention were of the rocky river edges of the Shoalhaven near his property at Bundanon.
Arthur Boyd Shoalhaven with black cockatoo and swan
Arthur Boyd River bush 1976
Boyd's inspiration was topped up by Fred Williams, most obviously, but not only, by his panel paintings which did something different with horizontals and enabled him to create a new dimension.
Fred Williams Beachscape, Erith Island 1974
Fred Williams Forest pond 1974
I learnt a different way of seeing from these masters, who offered me an alternative to the obsessive diagonal.
After seeing Julie Ryder's Molonglo: domestic blueprint with its white on white embroidery, my eye was attuned to intricate embroideries on the low tide beach, something I'd never noticed before despite daily beach rambles.
As my eye runs over the surface of the sand, I notice many compositions created by the sea as bricoleur and assembler. Here's a collection of her delicate artistry, from early beach walks over the last few days. She pays as much attention to the background, textured by rain, tide, shadows and bird-prints, as she does to her choice of shape and colour. Occasionally, like Brett Whitely, she includes her artist's hand in her assemblage. Her themes include death, humour, love, living in harmony and outsiders, and her technique is mainly minimalist, with a nod towards pared-down abstract impressionism.
Last week, I took inordinate pleasure in a solitary drive down the coast from Bermagui, through rain spatters into bright sunshine, savouring silence in a way new to me since my birthday retreat. Part of the delight was the fact that nobody knew where I was. I felt relaxed and still, as I headed towards two galleries which exactly match my attention span. I can enjoy about thirty pieces at a time: any more and my gallery stamina is severely challenged.
At Narek Galleries, the artist was Julie Ryder, whose textiles and works on paper were tied to two places, Piallago and Black Mountain, the sources of all her dyes for fabric and thread. As always at Narek, the notes were detailed and provided a satisfying framework for viewing the pieces, explaining how they reflect the way maps and paddocks have been superimposed on the natural landscape. I was taken by the incorporation of embroidery into the textile works, tiny stitches reminding one of the skills of grandmothers and hinting at the artist's autobiography.
This was particularly so in the table installation (Molonglo: domestic blueprint). The tablecloth was one containing memories of many family dinners, and the damask was embroidered with the contours of an early map by Charles Scrivener, the embroidery frame still in place. The edges were deliberately muddied by immersion in Lake Burleigh Griffin and the wonderful naturalistic photo with the surreal presence of the table was taken in Yarramundi Reach.
Four large panels (Seasonal variations: summer, autumn, winter, spring) were a patchwork of silk, wool and cotton fabrics in the colours of the landscape, overlaid with the lines from a contour map, expressing the artist's preoccupation with the takeover of the country from its indigenous inhabitants.
Smaller pieces, the Variations series, acquired some of their beauty from simple needlework: seed stitch, running sitch and horizontal cross-stitch, in thread coloured with natural dyes. The artist's notes say “Stitching is meditative, for me much like walking in the bush, and serves to remind us of the passing of time.” I was reminded of the calming effect of patchwork for me when I was waiting for the birth of my fourth child. The spool of embroidered material (No man's land) challenges the idea of terra nullius, the embroidery echoing the patterning of Victorian fabric, over the natural materials coloured by the land.
The patterns of the six works on paper (the Terrain series) were inspired by plant and wood cells seen through the microscope, moving from the historical to the botanical and still anchored firmly to place.
At Ivy Hill, I found two artists, very differentfrom each other and from Julie Ryder. Tim Morehead's work was vivid and geometrical. He mixes his own pigment, making a kind of crayon and then building up layers, interleaving fixative, especially with unstable yellow. The result had the bright texture of tapestry. The subject matter was domestic, with hints of Van Gogh and Grace Cossington-Smith.
Peter Tucker uses a very different medium, one familiar to me from my childhood. I didn't deserve to own a set of Derwent pencils: they were wasted on my puny scribblings. In Tucker's hands they performed miracles of depth and detail, and served his fantasy imagination well. I was too preoccupied with my awe at what a coloured pencil can do to take photos. You can see what he achieves in the catalogue of his paintings at
After spending time with three very different artists, I drove back up the coast feeling visually replete.
On an early morning walk through the bush, amongst spotted gums and burrawangs, I came across this sign. No doubt there's some kind of explanation, but I can't imagine what it might be. Climate change is supposed to be working the other way.