Kim Madden, Jan Wilson, Jill Cairns and Trisha Clarke have quite a few things in common – they’re all artists, they’re all extraordinarily talented, they all form a deep emotional response to the sights they see, and they all travelled together to Alice Springs and the MacDonell Ranges for a shared art/travel experience. The Heartfelt exhibition is the result of this trip to “the Alice” – and it’s truly stunning …
What were the reasons you decided to travel to Alice Springs together?
Kim: I’m a keen traveller and have seen quite a bit of Australia, but I hadn’t been to the MacDonnell Ranges. I love to paint, although I find painting outdoors a challenge. I’ve been painting outdoors with Jan and members of HVFAA’s Paint out Pals for a couple of years, but all that green, all those trees, all that blue ocean had me bluffed. I thought the desert heartland of Australia with its magentas, ochres, umbers and purples would suit me – and it did. I also do classes with Jill, initially drawing and now oil. It’s natural to want to go on a painting adventure together with so much in common.
Jan: HVFAA sometimes organise a painting trip where members gather in a location for a week’s art experience. Two years ago Kim suggested the MacDonnell Ranges. I jumped at the chance, as I had been there before and loved it. I knew it would be fun with the girls (plus friend Anne and my husband, Col). Col and I had travelled by campervan via Birdsville and the Plenty Highway on our way over, and the SA salt lakes on the way home (another paint trip sometime in the future!) It was a wonderful trip, so I was hyped up by the time I met the girls at Alice airport.
Jill: The initial decision to travel to Alice Springs was inspired by conversations amongst friends to experience working together as a group, in a location that would motivate the senses. Alice Springs certainly succeeded in that! We wanted a connection to a new landscape that offered a contrast in palette, textures and above all, the light.
Trisha: My trip to Alice Springs was a last-minute decision by me and thanks to the generosity of my friends Jill, Kim and friend Anne, I was able to share their accommodation and hiring of their vehicle, for which I am very grateful. I had travelled several times overseas, but have never really explored what Australia has to offer the artist. I had always wanted to visit the Alice Springs area to experience the majesty and richness of this magical, awesome place and to photograph the amazing rock formations in all their varied colours and shapes and to take in the spirit of timelessness and space. On the flight there I was struck by the land forms of rivers, mountains and salt pans – a wonderful sight from up so high.
What are some of your favourite memories from the trip?
Kim: When friend Anne and I arrived at Port Macquarie airport to catch the plane, Trisha was already sitting there wearing riding boots and a cowboy hat. I thought to myself, “This is going to be interesting!” From the first day to the last, we were blown away by the magnificence of the place, so strong and structural, so different, quiet, even ethereal. We were constantly sketching, taking photos, painting, walking, talking about what we’d seen, and enjoying each other’s company. Once I’d seen the colours, I felt I had a better appreciation of the marvellous Aboriginal art in the local galleries. We’d had no thought of doing an exhibition before we left home, but we saw the beauty, colour and majesty of the landscape and said we have to paint this and share it with others.
Jan: My favourite memories are the walks in the gorges with light spilling down over the old formations – intense colours with generally close tones. Texture everywhere. I noticed that the red earth wasn’t as prominent as in my earlier visit, due to the planting of Buffel Grass in Alice to keep the dust down, and this has now spread to the ranges and is competing with the native Spinifex for floor space. It does provide the artist with the use of a lighter tone.
Another memory is being chased away from a beautiful painting site by a swarm of native bees! The evenings together provided comic relief, and a chance to reflect on the day’s work.
Jill: The flight in to new country inspired me from above. Seeing the colours change into a traditional, indigenous palette gave me a sense of sharing with the custodial owners of the land. There were many memories, as each day took us to an amazing location, but, for me a highlight was our evening display of our daily efforts and the discussions that came from that about our art making. Over a glass or two of red wine, our positive banter was an inspiration and the beginning of new bonds. Watching the sun set from the John Flynn lookout whilst drawing and photographing the event in this vast place was stirring.
Trisha: Ellery Creek Gorge was our first outing – a beautiful start to our adventure. I was particularly taken by the water reflections and the bushland surrounding it. The ochre pits also struck a chord in me. The colours and eroded sides of the pits and the silence of this place are still with me.
The idea of having an exhibition based on our trip to The Alice didn’t take long to surface, and we all felt the need to share, through our paintings, what we had seen and felt there. Seeing, photographing and painting this land has brought me closer to my travelling companions and given me a better understanding of what motivates the artist in them to reproduce their emotional responses to such a beautiful place.
Overall, it was the quietness and the spirit of this timeless land and the sense of being where Albert Namatjira stood, walked and painted that stays with me. To me, it was a valuable insight that we should travel our own country first to appreciate its beauty and the challenges that our forebears faced in opening up this beautiful country.
Describe a few of the artworks you’ll be presenting in the Heartfelt exhibition.
Kim: We drove along Larapinta Drive and The Red Centre Way most days; they follow the MacDonnell Ranges for hundreds of kilometres. The layers of rock twist and writhe and have been crushed and forced upwards by powerful and violent natural forces. It is capped by layers of undulating rock like the medieval fortifications you can see along hilltops in Rajestan. The Aborigines call it the Caterpillar, and one of my favourite paintings is Chasing the Caterpillar in watercolour and crayon.
In 2017 I returned to Alice and travelled to Glen Helen Gorge – an amazing place where towering terracotta gorge walls rise like castle ramparts above the Finke River, which floats serenely below. The Finke fascinates me and is reputedly the oldest river in the world; it peters out in Lake Eyre. My oil painting Gorgeous Glen Helen is an attempt to capture some of this mystery and majesty. It’s the largest painting I’ve done so far.
Jan: Ellery Creek Waterhole is a medium size pastel of this beautiful place we visited first – a very cool oasis among the warm rocks. I enjoyed a paddle – very bracing! Trephina Gorge is another pastel/ink work from the East MacDonnell. We spent a day underneath the big River Gums, taking in the texture and colours of the walls of this gorge. Ochre Pit is a medium sized oil I did in the studio on my return home. It is a special place of myriad earth colours. I was intending to work a figure into the composition, but eventually decided to capture the texture of the earth wall with yellow tones in a close up view. I did add some footprints to indicate human activity along this important Aboriginal site.
Jill: My artworks consist of a variety of mediums, but, a large charcoal, ABOUT JAN, enabled me to expressively render the landscape with strong marks. This work is the largest in the exhibition, and my portrayal of Jan’s figure gave an insight into the special qualities in this vast scape. Another large oil, ROOTS, depicted the Ochre Pits and the sacred nature of what happens there. I used the shape of hands to symbolise the activity of gaining these pigments for ceremonial and creative purposes. I always felt that I was borrowing this environment!
Trisha: My painting Ormiston Gorge was the last I did for Heartfelt. We were fortunate to be able to visit Ormiston Gorge when it held water. Again, it was the reflections that caught my attention, as well as the beautiful, mature gum tree with the beautiful pattern of lights and darks on its twisted limbs.
Another favourite painting is Trephina Gorge, which is in inks and gouache. When we visited this gorge, it was awash in oranges and reds, against which the greens of the white limbed gums and other plants made a standout statement. I am planning to revisit the MacDonnell Ranges with my husband, so that he can experience for himself the beauty of this part of our country.
Where can we see more of your work?
Kim: My work can be seen at www.hastingsvalleyart.net at HVFAA Gallery above Oxley Beach and from time to time at Masterpiece Framing and Gallery on Hastings River Drive.
Jan: I display some works at the HVFAA gallery in William St., Port Macquarie. I also enter local and regional art exhibitions.
Jill: My practice can be viewed at the HVAA Gallery and website, Oatley 101 Art Society and website. I enter many competitions between Port Macquarie and the Gold Coast and west to Currabubula. I also have a studio, where anyone is able to make an appointment for a viewing.
Trisha: My work can be seen at the Hastings Valley Fine Art (HVFAA) Gallery, Oxley Beach end of William Street, Port Macquarie. I enter local art exhibitions and those further up and down the coast. I will also be adding images of my work to our HVFAA website.
Interview by Jo Robinson.
Heartfelt will be on display at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery until March 18.
Landscape inspired mixed media workshop with Jill Cairns and Jan Wilson, March 3 at 10am. Costs $45 (materials provided).