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Gallery - One Moreton Bay Fig Tree Project


My “One Moreton Bay Fig Tree Project”, that I titled “Microcosm”, is an art project that I undertook (mainly) in 2005 and 2006 which was based on concentrating almost two years’ work on one Moreton Bay Fig tree growing in the Adelaide Parklands.


View of the project's Moreton Bay Fig Tree


My rationale for the project

Trees are major natural elements growing amongst most human living environments (largely by human choice). They are homes, hunting grounds or temporary resting places for diverse populations of birds, small mammals, and insects ‘living in the wild’, and so provide opportunities for society-based people to ‘tap into’ the vitality of bolder, freer living. Trees also provide shade, oxygen, soothing white noise, charming bird calls, changing spectacles of light, colour and organic space, lovely ‘figurative’ organic forms, and often a ‘spiritual-like’ and peaceful sense of connection with the natural world. The appreciation of trees and the natural environments they provide are cross-cultural experiences, open to nearly all people. As models, trees naturally hold their ‘figurative poses’ for long spans of time and their ‘static nature’ easily allows for study through a range of seasons, times of the day, or various weather conditions.

By concentrating on one tree, I hoped to develop an ‘in-depth’ range of direct responses to a highly complex ‘individual’ organism (that might also suggest a scaled response to the huge population of similar organisms). I also wanted to express a variety of concepts involving this one organism (e.g. the tree as a provider of shade, the tree as a micro-environment, some of the growth processes within this one organism, the tree as an oxygen producer, etc.). By concentrating on the one tree, all of the resulting artworks relate to each other (even when using a variety of approaches).

I wanted to concentrate somewhat on the expression of form and space within the project. I feel that the interpretation of three-dimensional forms and space is the most basic and strongest aspect we derive from encountering a complex environment or structure – probably because of the superb binocular vision and brain hardware we have acquired from our primate ancestry for understanding three-dimensional form and space – living and moving with agility amongst tree canopies (coming back to trees again).

With this project, I produced mainly on-site drawings. I also took many photographs (including some 3D photographs), did a few on-site pastel paintings, did some writing and put together some multimedia pieces.

Following is a map that shows the location of the Moreton Bay Fig Tree that was the subject of this project. It is located in the maintained Parklands that surround the city of Adelaide. This tree is in the Parklands directly between the city of Adelaide and North Adelaide.


Location of the project's subject tree


About this particular Moreton Bay Fig tree (Ficus Macrophylla):

This tree is a natural magnet for most people who walk past it. I have met many people there who feel that it's 'the best tree in Adelaide'. It is certainly a mighty organism, looking very healthy and strong.

While working at the tree, I have often been asked by other people walking past if I knew how old the tree is? Their feeling was that it looks about 400-500 years old. The problem with that is that Moreton Bay Fig trees are native to southeast Queensland and hadn't naturally spread to growing in the area around Adelaide. Therefore, the tree had to be planted deliberately, by people with the technical know-how and ability to transplant and transport a seedling reasonably quickly from an area a long way away. The likelihood was that the tree was planted after 1835 - the approximate starting date of the invading English colony to South Australia. A horticultural technical officer at the Adelaide City Council said that to her best research the tree was planted in 1875-1880, which puts the tree at an age of about 135 - 140 years old.

I first encountered this tree in 1983, reasonably soon after moving to Adelaide, and I spent considerable time then doing some serious drawings of it. At that time it would have been about 105 -110 years old. In the 40 or so years since then, I've only noticed very minor changes to the tree's forms, such as some of the extremities of the long horizontally extending boughs dropping a little. The tree seems to be going through a fairly stable time in its life.

I realised when I first came across the tree in 1983 that it was an excellent place to be at, but now I am seeing just how special that one tree is. It is a huge tree, with branching very close to the ground. One can easily get amongst its massive boughs and the spaces between them. That is something very unusual in itself. But the tree also has a vast network of twisting buttress roots that makes it feel like an inviting play ground. 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 (there are masses of interesting details everywhere one looks).

The tree's canopy is approximately an elliptical shape: about 44 metres long by 38 metres wide, covering an area of approximately 1300 square metres (or one and a half average suburban house blocks).

The tree's exposed buttress root systems cover an approximate elliptical shape of about 25 metres by 23 metres.

Project goals:

  1. To create a body of related work, suitable for an exhibition, covering a range of innovative approaches and experiments.

  2. Expressions desired: accurate recording of interesting organic forms, looking at the variety of forms within one tree, expressing the size of the real tree, expressing a range of thoughtful concepts involving the tree, providing a meaningful and poetic record of the focus tree.

  3. To produce most of the artwork from the one tree (maintaining a relationship between all work produced).

  4. To successfully exhibit this body of new work at a professional art gallery and attract critical appraisal.

Artistic Details:

The new work was to explore:

  • the expression of form,

  • expression of orientation within an image,

  • the expression of the large size of the real tree,

  • the expression of many of the tree's interesting structures and 'isolated' forms,

  • and various concepts based on the organism,

using a variety of tools/approaches:

  • Direct observation, recording truthfully-observed relationships. Most drawing/painting is to be performed on-site – working from the richest source material – the real thing!

  • Using repeated cross-sectional lines that describe the forms’ structures and rhythms.

  • Placing ‘overlaid' grids on my drawn/painted surrounding elements such as the ground and within the space of the sky, to enhance the expression of true space encountered.

  • Experimenting with different approaches – some bolder with more energy, some more carefully worked which will all be developed to a high standard.

  • The use of 3-dimensional stereoscopic photography to capture forms mechanically (a selection of such photographs will also be displayed as part of the exhibition).

  • Exploring the inter-relationships between multiple images.

Some of the major concepts I wanted to attempt:

  • The construction of a huge complex structure from the processing of water, air, sunlight, and soil nutrients.

  • Trees and animals (an interdependence for life) – gas exchange, air processing, nutrition exchange, reproduction relying on animal messengers.

  • Why indications of 'muscle-type' forms, when there are no muscles?

  • Tree as a provider of shelter, and a provider of unique environments – providing homes for many types of birds and insects (I have encountered many spiders and mosquitoes there that I've not encountered anywhere else).

  • Every fig seed is a potential mature Moreton Bay Fig tree of similar size and weight to this tree. A tiny capsule capable of growing into an enormous organism.

The project began tentatively with a few exploratory drawings in September 2004. After finishing some other drawings and moving house through November and December 2004, I worked on the project from January 2005 and it 'officially concluded' at the end of July 2006. The fact is, many of the ideas begun in this project have not been satisfactorily completed, and work on the project has continued to this day (but not at the exclusion of other projects). I know now that the project was really just a starting point for many worthwhile ideas. I hope to refine and continue the project into the future.

Shown in this gallery are just a small number of pleasing pieces from the project.


Following are images with brief descriptions of about twelve artworks.

Click on an image, or a link to 'more details...', to go to a page with more details about that artwork, as well as a second (related) artwork.

Once you are looking at artworks in more detail, you can use the 'prev' and 'next' links (at the top and bottom of each details page) to go to the previous or next artworks in the gallery, or return to this gallery page.



1. Long Exposure 0482

Long Exposure 0482
3072 pixels (w) x 2048 pixels (h), digital photograph.
Date produced: 16th April 2006, at 17:20.

About Long Exposure photography:

This is a form of photography that developed for me during this project. These ‘long exposure photographs’ basically result from using long exposure times, that let in a stream of sharply focused light -resulting in at least partly blurred images.

These (often dynamic) images result from the impact of the camera movement through 3-dimensional light and space. They have been ’painted’ with light and movement and time through space (certainly more than conventional photography from a static viewpoint). Many shapes and details are simplified. I have found that major three dimensional structures can still somehow be recorded by the way they interact with the movement.

One is presented with an ’impression’, formed from the recording of relationships of shapes, tones and colours from a real experience.

There are basically three types of long exposure photographs I explored and a ...more details...





2. Colour Overview of the Tree Alone

Colour Overview of the Tree Alone
50 cm (w) x 35 cm (h), pastels on acid-free paper.

This was produced entirely on-site. This piece was originally started as a colour overview of the tree. The surrounding trees were not included, so that the tree was seen as the only subject. The colours were originally developed to closely match those seen from the tree. After revisiting the pastel, I felt that it didn’t really feel like it was reflecting the sense of sunlight that it should have been. I then set about trying to improve that sense of sunlight, by increasing the yellow and yellow-orange intensity, and then looking at the feeling of the whole image. ...more details...





3. A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots

A Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots
74 cm (w) x 55 cm (h), graphite and watercolour pencils on cartridge paper.
Date produced: 3rd March 2005

This was drawn entirely on-site. I wanted to produce a map of the exposed buttress roots of the tree, to see what overall patterns and shapes resulted.

I used a crude surveying technique to get reasonable overall accuracy. Note the series of concentric rings which were drawn on lightly before any recording, to aid the crude surveying.

This drawing took about 4 weeks of work. Having worked on this map for about 3 weeks longer than I thought it would take, I realised that such a map is extremely relevant to this project; so relevant, that the idea was expanded to attempt a map of the main lower boughs of the tree, including the canopy shape, to go along with this map of the exposed buttress roots.

While doing this drawing, it was quite common for falling fruit to fall directly onto the drawing (which was usually lying horizontally), making very loud and unexpected noises like guns being fired. These falling fruit also left little round pink marks ...more details...





4. A Map of the Main Lower Boughs (showing the layer underneath)

A Map of the Main Lower Boughs (showing the layer underneath)
74 cm (w) x 55 cm (h), graphite pencil on drafting film, over cartridge paper.
Date produced: 2005

This map drawn in pencil was done on-site, on drafting film over a printout of a drawing of a map of the tree’s exposed buttress roots, and concentric rings representing distances from an arbitrarily chosen centre point (the same centre point used for the Map of the Exposed Buttress Roots). The map of the exposed buttress roots helped considerably with the mapping of the main boughs. Similar crude surveying techniques to those used for the map of the exposed buttress roots were used for this drawing as well. The boughs have been drawn as if looking down on them, but were mostly drawn while looking up at them - something that required considerable concentration and discipline.

One of the reasons I wanted to produce this map was to get an idea of the tree’s overall structure, the shape of its canopy, and the patterns within its spreading main boughs. I was surprised, but comforted, to find h ...more details...





5. Study with Boughs and Buttress Roots Coming Forward

Study with Boughs and Buttress Roots Coming Forward
57 cm (w) x 76 cm (h), natural charcoal on acid-free drawing paper.
Date produced: 2005

This was drawn entirely on-site. This study is of a view that I found quite challenging and interesting. I was keen to use just natural charcoal, which puts a limit on the level of detail I can go to, and meant that I finished the drawing within about 2 week’s work. I wanted to put considerable development into some parts of the drawing, but I also wanted to leave some areas exactly as they were after the initial session and not overwork the drawing. I feel that the expressions of space and structure are working well. I’m also happy with the tonal structure of the drawing. ...more details...





6. Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Adelaide Parklands

Inner Strength - Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Adelaide Parklands
58 cm (w) x 76 cm (h), charcoal on cream acid-free drawing paper.
Date produced: March - May 2005

I produced this drawing entirely on-site.

The drawing’s view is a very wide-angle view of what I saw. I was sitting very close to the tree, with one leg of my portable easel not far from the ground shown at the bottom of the drawing. Working with such a wide angle view directly from such a huge subject was quite a challenge in itself.

The ideal light for producing this drawing was when it was overcast, but that didn’t happen very often, and when it did, it put the drawing at some risk of damage should it rain suddenly (it did get some fine rain drops on it once). Most of the sessions were carried out in fine sunny conditions, using the different times of the day for drawing different parts of the subject (when they were suitably shaded).

This is the largest, most finished charcoal drawing I have ever produced, and I learnt many things about using the medium. I was keen to include my linear expressions of form, orientation, and flow, (dra ...more details...





7. Close to the Heart

Close to the Heart
58 cm (w) x 74.5 cm (h), natural charcoal on acid-free drawing paper.
Date produced: May 2006

This was drawn entirely on-site. Close to the heart, the main vessels are large, and flow with energy. Being close to the centre of the tree means close to its ‘heart’. Even though a tree may not have an organ called a heart (as animals have), which acts as a circulatory pump, trees also have circulatory systems. Trees need to bring water and nutrients up from the ground out to all of their leaves for generating energy from photosynthesis, for keeping their cells alive. And they need to distribute the results of all the photosynthesis back to all of its cells, including those in its roots. One might consider the important section of trunk just above the roots to be the tree’s heart. All major circulation passes through this region of the tree. Some trees can pump water silently more than 100 metres above the ground to their leaves. How do they do this, especially when a vacuum can only hold a column of water about 10 metres high?

The subject is also close t ...more details...





8. Overview with Foliage as Felt Spheroids

Overview with Foliage as Felt Spheroids
73 cm (w) x 52 cm (h), charcoal on acid-free paper.
Date produced: June 2005

This was drawn entirely on-site. The foliage forms have been simplified and drawn in as spheroids. I am pleased with the sense of the whole canopy titling towards the right (the prevailing path of the sun across the sky), achieved with the repeated orientation of the grids on most spheroids. I think the sense of space between various spheroids works well, as does the impression of weight being balanced by the trunk and main boughs.

To finish this drawing, I added some tone in the sky and changed the grid in the sky used for expression of its space. ...more details...





9. Under the Spread - A New Version of My Major Drawing from 20 Years Ago

Under the Spread - A New Version of My Major Drawing from 20 Years Ago
73cm x 53cm, black biro and watercolour pencils on acid-free paper.
Date produced: August 2006

This drawing was produced as a way of somehow ‘completing’ the major drawing I had started and worked on for some time during 1984.

This drawing has been done directly from the tree as much as possible as it is now (on-site), but several branches had been cut off since the drawing done 20 years ago, so the original drawing was used as a reference for those branches.

I used biro and coloured pencils, to keep production time down to a minimum (still took several weeks), as opposed to the time required for a production based on pastels and conté (several months for the level of detail required). I kept the drawing to a similar size to the other drawings in this project, which made the drawing size of the tree less than half the size of the original.

Grids were carefully created (set out with the aid of a computer) for the ground plane and sky space to provide expression of the wide-angle space, and to enhance the expression of the boug ...more details...





10. The Orange Tree - Form and Space

The Orange Tree - Form and Space
73 cm (w) x 53 cm (h), pastels and charcoal on acid-free paper.

This was produced mainly on-site. With this piece, I tried to produce a strong expression of the tree’s forms, using all of the line work, the tones, and the colours used. Local colours are largely ignored. The colouring used is an exaggerated aerial perspective, where surfaces that are close to me are made more orange (to bring them forward), and surfaces that are more distant are made more blue (to send them back further). I have also tried to indicate the air that surrounds the forms using pale blues around the forms.

I have applied these same principles of colour to the ‘forms’ within the canopy, but kept its tone dark, to help enclose the scene - as it feels in reality.

Contour lines indicate the cross-sectional shapes of the forms, the orientation of surfaces to the viewer, and set up ‘rhythms of flow’ within the depictions of forms. These lines are ‘felt’ from looking at the real forms and are considered by me to be ex ...more details...





11. Abstraction Based on Shapes

Abstraction Based on Shapes
73 cm (w) x 51 cm (h), pastels and charcoal on paper.
Date produced: 2006

This was produced entirely on-site. I am keen to use more abstraction in my pieces - that is, intelligently and/or emotionally using bold relationships of abstract elements to express some aspects of the subject more efficiently.

This piece is an example of an image based on ‘simplified and flattened’ shapes. The colours used have come mainly from the understanding gained from my accurately observed colour studies, and from working on this piece directly from the tree. I enjoyed consciously ‘reaching within my intelligence and feelings’ for the solutions I finally settled on.

After reaching a reasonable stage of development, the piece felt as if it needed the inclusion of indications from other senses, such as sound, and smell. After experimenting with modifying colours, and still feeling the need for more, I decided to include a couple of stylised birds. These were developed a little more, and led to including representatives from much of ...more details...





12. The Magnificent Moreton Bay Fig, Angas Gardens, Adelaide Park Lands

The Magnificent Moreton Bay Fig, Angas Gardens, Adelaide Park Lands
119 cm (w) x 67 cm (h), acrylic paints on board.
Date produced: October 2017 - April 2018

This was designed and painted entirely in my studio, away from the real subject. This visual composition expresses aspects of being at the subject Moreton Bay Fig tree used in my microcosm project. The basic design comes from experiencing the tree from in under its dense canopy, seeing the shapes of its many massive branches and buttress roots, and seeing the masses of foliage from inside the hemisphere of its canopy. Importance was placed on trying to express the feelings of confronting such a massive organism, with its own strong presence, in the subdued light under the tree’s dense canopy, seemingly with its own sub-environment. Nutrients are systematically collected from rotting debris amongst the buttress roots. There is an ‘exchange’ of atmospheric gases during photosynthesis. Exotic tropical bird calls ring out from various corners of the canopy.

The image is based on compiling more of a concept of the tree from the shapes of the tree’s various t ...more details...





13. Under A Sunlit Canopy in Angas Gardens

Under A Sunlit Canopy in Angas Gardens
90 cm (w) x 60 cm (h), oil paints on board.
Date produced: March 2017 - September 2018

The tree’s scientific name: Ficus Macrophylla

Common name: Moreton Bay Fig Tree (an Australian native tree, but not native to this region)

Location: The tree is located in the maintained Park Lands that surround the city of Adelaide in South Australia. It is in the Park Lands directly between the city of Adelaide and North Adelaide, in a section called "Angas Gardens". It grows near the south-eastern corner of Sir Edwin Smith Avenue and War Memorial Drive. If you are walking from the City of Adelaide along King William Road, after you cross the Adelaide Bridge, take a pathway to the right and you should see the large tree on the other side of War Memorial Drive.

We live in an amazing world. I find a lot of beauty and interest, and gain immense inspiration from the natural world around me.

This painting tries to capture a single view of the real world, just enjoying the colours, tones, forms, spaces, sounds, smells and g ...more details...


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