Selected as a Finalist!
I am extremely happy to have been chosen as a finalist in the 2014 Adelaide Park Lands Art Prize. This is the first year that the prize has been held.
The Adelaide Park Lands Art Prize exhibition of finalists will be shown at the Adelaide Festival Centre Artspace Gallery from Saturday 15th February to Sunday 6th April, 2014 (check with the gallery for days and times of operation).
Magnificent Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Angas Gardens
58 cm x 76 cm, charcoal on cream acid-free drawing paper.
I produced this drawing entirely on-site responding directly to the real tree in the Adelaide Park Lands (near the south-east corner of War Memorial Drive and Sir Edwin Smith Avenue in North Adelaide). The subject is a magnificent tree, and working under it day after day was a real privilege.
I first encountered this tree about 30 years ago, soon after moving to Adelaide, and I spent considerable time then doing some serious drawings of it. Being close to the tree means being in a changed environment; heavily darkened by the thick canopy of rubbery leaves, surrounded by many active birds with tropical calls in the canopy, amongst pleasant earthy smells of rotting figs and decaying leaves, and an atmosphere where one’s senses seem to be heightened.
This tree is a natural magnet for most people who walk past it, and there are many people who walk past it every day: many university students walking between residences in North Adelaide and Adelaide University, city workers who live in North Adelaide, people who walk to work in the Melbourne Street area, and workers at the Women and Children’s Hospital nearby.
I have met and seen many tourists from all over the world stop at the tree and take photographs of it. Common reactions to the tree are for people to want to climb in it, and to be photographed next to it.
While at the tree, I have met many people who feel that this tree is the best tree in Adelaide. It is certainly a mighty organism, looking very healthy and strong, and growing in a prominent spot.
When observing the tree, I was constantly seeing an underlying structure made from discrete ‘tubes’ of various thicknesses, covered with a flexible form-hugging skin. The reality is that the ‘skin’ of the tree is quite hard, and not very flexible. And if one were to cut through a section of the buttress roots, or one of the boughs, one wouldn’t see the cross section as being made up of discrete ‘tubes’. Where then does that appearance come from? Why do the tree’s forms develop in that way?
I made the overhanging bough a little darker than it appeared in reality, to make it more prominent and bring it forward in the drawing. The boughs that were furthest away I made a little lighter, to keep them behind the other boughs, and help ‘open’ the expression of space that I experienced.
However, I found that a tonal depiction on its own didn’t provide enough information about the tree’s fabulous organic forms. To help the expression of forms, I superimposed imaginary grids on the surfaces, especially in the form of carefully drawn contour lines. The contour lines provide a sense of orientation, and cross-sectional structure. They provide information that you can only get from observing the real organism.
This drawing required about 50 – 70 half-day sessions, all located at the tree. Most sections of the drawing needed to be finely redeveloped two or three times, to get the depictions of form, and overall tone integrity I wanted.
This drawing was done as part of my project, called "Microcosm" - concentrating two years' work on one Moreton Bay Fig tree.
Below (left) is a photo of the same drawing at an earlier stage, next to a similar sized version of the finished drawing (right), which can give an idea of the amount of development put into this drawing:
This earlier stage of the drawing was achieved in about a day and a half, and I felt pleased with the drawing even at this stage.
Much of the work to this stage was used for developing the overall layout, as accurately as possible. I found this to be a satisfying challenge in itself, because of the very wide angle of view I had chosen (mapping a curved space onto a flat plane), and because I was sitting so close to the subject (difficult to relate sections from different distances while keeping the accuracy and character within each part).
While doing this early stage of this drawing the weather was hot (in early February) and I was getting a strong smell of rotting flesh. I quickly realised that the smell was coming from a dead possum, that was lying mostly under leaves directly in front of me under the spherical bulb that can be seen in the drawing. Even though the possum was dead, it gave me the impression that it had been trying to feel protected, because it was in a curled-up sleeping position close to the tree (as if trying to get as much protection from the tree as possible). After getting the drawing to the stage above, I left it for a few weeks and worked on other drawings until the smell had subsided.
When I started the drawing, there were many thick sections of old spider webs covering the underside of the main overhanging bough in the drawing. I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle those in my drawing, and in the end, I didn't need to worry about them. As the weather got cooler and the breezes started to come through with frequent rain, most of those webs peeled away from the tree (after having collected many stray pieces of leaves and grass), leaving an excellent view of the underlying forms. I was quite surprised watching the old webs peel away from the tree over the course of about a week, but I was also very pleased. I now had a very clear view of the details that had been obscured somewhat by the webs, and it felt as if that section of the tree had been 'freshened'.