Imagining Landscapes

Most importantly, we must remember that there is a close, abiding and interactive relationship between how one sees an environment and how one inhabits, manipulates and influences that environment. A relativism which simply equates the validity of all representations of nature (saying that one picture is as good as any other) precludes the possibility of evaluating or criticising human action.

Through time and across cultures certain modes of representation have enhanced our understanding of humanity's environment and of human interactions with that environment. If one views the Australian environment, for example, with Claudian eyes, impressionist eyes, Aboriginal eyes or with the eyes of a mining engineer, one learns things of value which affect the nature and quality of future environmental encounters.

Seeing Australia's landscape in the way Sidney Nolan sees the Kimberleys is perhaps to forsake once and for all the naive visions of those who destroyed the Victorian mallee lands to grow wheat or of those who converted the Ord River Valley to provide cotton fodder for insects. Any attempt to see the land 'as it is' incorporates an implicit view of the land 'as it will be'. The relationship between seeing and doing, between picturing and interacting, can be surprisingly immediate. Thus, sophisticated analysis of this relationship should be the aim of all who seek to know and work with nature.

Desert storm 1

Panel 1

Desert storm 2

Panel 2

Desert storm 3

Panel 3

Desert storm 4

Panel 4

Desert storm 5

Panel 5

Desert storm 6

Panel 6

Desert storm 7

Panel 7

The theme of Desert Storm is space and light – and a sudden suffocating, red dark. The seductive blue of an endless distance draws us on ... This blue space is threatened by the dust-storm which blows up ... (in the last three panels). The idyllic desert, beautiful even when it is baleful, can become an inferno of grit.

... Desert Storm says what it is. The eye was for the Medievals the noblest of the senses, because the most disinterested; and so it was the best image of the spirit. The eye expands through four panels of this vast painting. In three of the panels it is thwarted. The translucid becomes opaque. Stone, ribbed and sharp, asserts touch; the unseen eye-beam is blocked by rock and dust, as the dark, the opaque, the body, and the circumstances of life, block and thwart the soul. Spirit delights in transparency: touch must respond to the hard and the gritty. Touch is not disinterested, it is the very symptom of being in the world, and of boundedness.

P.A.E. Hutchings, Edinburgh 1969, catalogue introduction, Sydney Nolan: Recent Paintings, Skinner Galleries, Perth, February 1970

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