Artists’ Eyes

 

The Glasshouse Mountains are beautiful and mysterious. They’ve been sitting there since long before James Cook came past in his little ship and named them, and for many thousands of years they’ve had their own Indigenous names and their own stories.

Moreton Bay Regional Council has three art galleries that specialise in exhibitions of the way artists represent local places. One of these, the Caboolture Art Gallery, has shown a range of artists’ depictions of the Glasshouse Mountains, including Indigenous artists, such as Melinda Serico.

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Many artists try to capture the atmosphere of the Glasshouses, but Lawrence Daws is my favourite. He lived near the mountains for years, and his paintings show the quality of the light, the glimmer of creeks and farm dams, the familiar shapes of Tibrogargan, Beerwah, Coonowrin and the other peaks.

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Golden Summer, Lawrence Daws

I can see the beauties of landscape for myself, as I did when from the slopes of Ngun Ngun I took this photo of Tibrogargan; but seeing them through the eyes of an artist gives me an extra layer of appreciation.

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Tibrogargan II, Lawrence Daws

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It’s difficult to paint rainforests effectively: the trees are so tall, the undergrowth so thick. Queensland artist William Robinson found ways to paint the forests of Beechmont, in the beautiful hills near Lamington National Park, which puts us above and below the forest, looking up at towering trees and down at the valleys below, all on the same canvas. He painted the birds and animals, magnificent skies, and the stars and moon reflected in mountain pools.

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Sunset and Misty Morn, Beechmont, William Robinson

Mount Barney, on the New South Wales border, is iconic to bushwalkers.

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Mount Barney under cloud

Hulking and multi-peaked, with hidden valleys and forested slopes, it is a challenge to climb, and to paint. John Rigby painted a colourful image of Mount Barney in all its jagged beauty.

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Mount Barney, John Rigby

My artist mother, Pat Fox, spent time on Cape York in the 1970s, and she took a photo, now faded, of a well-known waterhole near Weipa.

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Back home, she painted the scene, showing the reflection of saplings and trees in the still water. Comparing the two images shows how she heightened the impact through her choice of  colour and composition.

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It was a road trip through New South Wales, not Queensland, that taught me to appreciate how interesting it is to see landscape paintings and also visit the landscapes they represent. It was between Cowra and Bathurst, where the Mid-western Highway of New South Wales curves through rolling hills near Carcoar, and a river winds past the distinctive shapes of weeping willows and poplars.

Con was driving while I sat musing on the passing landscape, brown now at the end of a long summer. The land seemed familiar, but couldn’t be: I’d never been this way before.

Then I realised. Brett Whiteley painted this country. We’ve got a print of it on the wall at home.

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Summer at Carcoar, Brett Whiteley

The painting is called “Summer at Carcoar”. As well as characteristic lush curves of road and river, there are magpies and a wren, a burrowing mouse, and a fox with head and tail above the tall, gold-brown grass. It’s a beautiful picture, the pride of the Newcastle Art Gallery. I’ve since found out that Brett Whiteley often painted the country round Bathurst.

That day, for the first time, it occurred to me that there is delight in seeing the actual country painted by artists, and that it doesn’t need to be Monet’s Garden at Giverny, or Van Gogh’s Arles.

The same pleasures are to be found here at home.

Windmills and Whale Tails

 

Hervey Bay: famous for senior citizens and whale watching. Its whale sculptures are beautiful, too.

On Main Street an eight-metre-tall, iron bark and stainless-steel humpback whale called Nala is breaching. A life-sized aluminium whale’s tail, flukes outspread, stands in the middle of an Esplanade roundabout garden – Nala’s baby.

This is public art at its most engaging.

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Some public art in regional areas is dismal. It’s as if the council wanted a piece of sculpture to enhance the town and commissioned the mayor’s brother-in-law to knock something together with chicken wire and concrete.

Things are changing.

Fine public art is popping up across Queensland, some of it by internationally-renowned sculptors.

In Boonah, south-west of Brisbane, a larger than life sized Clydesdale horse stands in a park at the entrance to town. Scottish sculptor Andy Scott is most famous for his thirty-metre-high horses’ heads, The Kelpies – Scotland’s best-known works of public art. He built the Boonah horse to celebrate the draught horses that once worked here. Made from galvanized steel bars, the horse stands alertly, its ears pricked, as if ready to trot forward to greet the visitor.

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Towns need a visual focal point like this horse, something iconic to use in advertising material, something to attract business and tourism. Something to be proud of.

Across Queensland there are many intriguing pieces of public art by Christopher Trotter, and there’s one of them in Boonah, too: the quirky Blumbergville Town Clock, with a steam whistle that blows on the hour. It’s constructed in steam-punk style from old printing press parts, water pipes, bits of agricultural machinery and horse shoes.

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Trotter’s sculptured plants and fungi, sinuous and organic, made from pipes, tractor seats, cement mixer bowls and scraps of farm machinery, decorate the entrance to the Mackay Botanical Gardens in North Queensland.

On the banks of the Condamine River in Warwick, on the southern Darling Downs, is a plump, granite sculpture of Tiddalik, the frog of Aboriginal legend who swallows all the water in the land, then lets it gush out in a flood. Carved from a fifteen tonne granite boulder, when the Condamine floods Tiddalik goes under water.

My daughter Lizzie and her family, driving back to Brisbane on the New England Highway, were delayed by floods there.

She sent me a text: “The Condamine is lapping at the bridge, all the locals out to see it, the statue of Tiddalik with only his eyes visible above the floodwater.”

Mitchell, west of Roma, has an attractive main street of old pubs, bottle trees and parks. There are murals on its bridge pylons, decorative ceramic pavers, mosaics of fish and birds on the sidewalk, and concrete kangaroos reclining in front of the shops.

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There’s a fine windmill in the small historical park in the main street. If art is something that evokes a response from its viewers and brings to mind a way of life and landscape, then this windmill is art.

The focus on art in Mitchell interests me, and I spoke to a local resident to find out how it came to be there.

“It was in the old Booringa Shire Council days, before we amalgamated with Roma,” he said. You could tell that amalgamation with Roma had been unpopular with this former council worker.

“The old council wanted to make the most of the main street, so they put some money and thought into it, and this is the result. We need tourists to stop for a while, spend a little money in the town.”

The large amounts of money put into public art by local councils and government bodies (sometimes only after much heated debate about costs) are an investment in much-needed tourism.

In Emerald, there’s a giant copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” on a ten metre high easel. Childers has quaint bronze owls in the main street. Cairns has attractive water-front sculptures. The tiny town of Ravenswood, between Ayr and Charters Towers, has gorgeous ceramic tiles of birds, animals and plants all over its picnic tables, so beautiful they deserve far more people to see them.

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Diver, Cairns

The little town of Millaa Millaa, on the southern Atherton Tableland is in lush, hilly country once famous for dairy. In the main street is the statue called “The Reluctant Cow”. There’s a farmer straining to push a cow into the milking bail, a cattle dog and an upset milk bucket. When we were there a kid from South Australia was helping the farmer to push while his family took a photo.

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Regional public art at its most loveable.

Photos: Windmill, Mitchell; “Nala”, Hervey Bay; Horse, Boonah; “Blumbergville Clock”, Boonah; Kangaroos, Mitchell; Sunflowers, Emerald; “Diver”, Cairns; “The Reluctant Cow”, Millaa Millaa.

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