Center for Art + Environment Blog

October 23, 2011   |   William L. Fox

Travels in Australia: Paruku — Part 6 of 6

Travels in Australia: Paruku

Printmaker Basil Hall and conservationist Guy Fitzhardinge with the acetates on the floor of the Warruyarnta Art Centre in Mulan. Photo by John Carty.

Printmaker Basil Hall and conservationist Guy Fitzhardinge with the acetates on the floor of the Warruyarnta Art Centre in Mulan. Photo by John Carty.

Printmaker Basil Hall and conservationist Guy Fitzhardinge with the acetates on the floor of the Warruyarnta Art Centre in Mulan. Photo by John Carty.

At the end of the two-and-a-half weeks in Paruku, the painters from Mulan and the visiting artists, the writers and conservationists, the scientists and local Aboriginal rangers, had created a layered and linked body of work unlike anything I’ve witnessed elsewhere. A fine trope for it all was the portfolio to be created by Basil Hall, a printmaker from Darwin with whom Mandy Martin and Aboriginal artists have collaborated for years.
Basil gave the Aboriginal artists sheets of acetate upon which to paint each color from their paintings in order to reproduce them as prints. In some cases, the artists took to painting new works directly on the acetates. Notes from the scientists, sketches by the visiting artists, a poem from me–all of it would be incorporated. Even drawings by Chris Curran of the water and diesel pumps he repaired for the community would be layered into the work. Some of art would tell stories dating back thousands of years, others to last week.

And the men’s painting, although it wasn’t completely finished when I photographed it the morning we were driving back to Alice Springs, was breathtaking. A large selection of works from the project will tour parts of Australia, and the project archive and many of the artworks then come to the Center for Art + Environment. But it was difficult to envision that particular painting leaving Paruku. It’s not simply that the painting was a representation of Paruku and its Dreaming, but that the painting itself is considered country.

All of the work was linked, a culture of markmaking that started during our trip with mud being smeared on us in the lake as a gesture of welcome to country and that would continue as the artists both from Mulan and elsewhere would contribute work in future years. And, in turn, this expedition was linked into that much, much long arc of art on the continent that started with body decoration and rock art tens of thousands of years earlier.

The Parnkupirti Creek painting finished on the left side, awaiting additional detail on the right. Photo by David Leece.

The Parnkupirti Creek painting finished on the left side, awaiting additional detail on the right. Photo by David Leece.