‘Earth’ … the fourth Element Door

I’m not surprised I’ve left the Earth door till last. The creation of this artwork meant a lot to me personally – it is the one that links to my adolescence in the Australian outback where the desire to understand more about our ancient continent began.



‘Earth’ – Land is Memory Memory is Land – Sheryl Gwyther 2003




Australia has a proud tradition of landscape artists. From the paintings of indigenous people whose unique art was and still is inspired by a visceral connection to the place of their birth … to the famous and amateur artists of the last 200+ years. All endeavour to express visually something about the impact of the land upon humans.

Because of the very nature of this country – its colours, its harshness, its contours and landforms, its history and its 85 million-year-old memory, the usual Euro-British landscape formats of painting background, middle ground and foreground seems inadequate to express what it there. This is why many artists in Australia strive to understand and paint the landscape beyond what is visible to the human eye – like the work of British-born, now Australian artist John Wolseley.

John WOLSELEY, ‘Botanist’s camp’ lithograph

Wolseley’s work over the last twenty years has been “a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape – a kind of meditation on how land is a dynamic system of which we are all a part”.

His work is compelling, intriguing and insightful – his draughtsmanship is superb. Go check out his art in books – especially works like A search for rare plants in the George Gill Ranges, NT 1982. It’s a large piece in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

In my Earth painting, you’ll find earth colours and fossils – yes, it was in the outback where, as a kid, I found my first, small, fossil pieces. It’s where I set my first children’s novel, Secrets of Eromanga, an adventure set on a dinosaur fossil dig.

Across the top section of Earth, are several layers of contour lines. They’re not actually drawn lines – they’re the tiny, written, line of words land is memory memory is land land is memory memory is land – like a mantra, I guess.

Layered into the glazed paint is a piece of rice-paper printed with musician, Paul Kelly‘s song, This Land is Mine / This Land is Me from the tragic, brilliant movie, One Night the Moon. It expresses lyrically and harmonically, the root of racial misunderstanding in Australia with regard to ‘ownership’ of land – the white settler who buys and owns his block of land and the Indigenous tracker who is connected to that land by birth. In the movie, set in the early 1900s, the white outback settler, played by Paul Kelly refuses to allow the local Aboriginal people back on his block. When his young daughter ‘follows’ the moon into the desert, the settler spurns the offered help of the black tracker who could have found his daughter easily.

I won’t tell you the whole story in case you see it – every Australian who cares about our country should see it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and seeing the past four days of my art work. If you’re ever in Brisbane, ring The Gap High School Library and ask if you can see the Element Doors – no longer in their original places as real, everyday doors but at least they’re still there.

All images are copyrighted. If you would like to use them for educational purposes, please acknowledge them and contact me first for permission.
(c) Sheryl Gwyther 2011


14 thoughts on “‘Earth’ … the fourth Element Door

  1. I’ll take you out to the school next time you come up, Rob.
    I liked it much better when the doors were actual working doors with kids walking through every day, opening and shutting it, occasionally stopping to have a closer look at something on them that caught their eye. But now, alas, three are up on the wall, no longer able to be got close to. And Fire is in a separate room by itself. But it is the Teacher-Librarian’s room and she loves it, and it can be seen through the glass wall – so that’s a consolation, I guess. 😛
    xx sheryl


  2. Hi Sheryl

    Have just got around to reading these blogs. Next time I’m home I’dlove to see them in person. Just thinking about you including them in a bokk – I’d like to know what’s behind each door???



  3. Thanks for that link, Judith. I don’t know of Leslie’s work so am very interested. I hope you can get back into painting again soon and into that book. See you on fb! 🙂


  4. Fantastic Sheryl! Check out Leslie Marmon Silko’s latest memoir The Turquoise Ledge. While this is just text, the subject matter is related to yours in that she focuses in detail on the land. Your paintings and writing immediately made me think of her reading at Seattle’s Central Public Library. As a writing artist (my right arm bummed out in 2001 and I had to let go off my brushes and other tools of the trade, but luckily could still type) I find your work most inspiring. You make me want to get back to painting (albeit carefully) and work on a book on my “land” of heritage. The things I learned as a child after my parents and I left Amsterdam for the country. So glad we’ve connected, you are an inspiration!


  5. Such talent, Sheryl. Such wisdom and strength. Such connection to the land and the story.
    Please thread your magic colour on a new canvas. I am longing to see it.


  6. I would love to write a non-fiction, picture book or coffee-table book on them, Tania, with close-up images, images of the works in progress and more of the stories behind the paintings – influences, ideas, and workings etc.
    Maybe some publisher might be interested one day – if I become famous?? lol 🙂


  7. Sheryl, thank you so much for sharing your journey and meaning through your four door canvasses. The earth door too is magnificent and such a poignant telling of man/earth’s evolution. So special and multi-layered and levelled through the ages. Love them. :):):):) Chris.


  8. Thanks, Dee. I would love to see the Element Doors series as a book – it is about the stories behind them as well as the art itself.
    I like Julie’s idea, but I know how difficult it is to get picture books published – and I guess coffee-table books with lots of colour are just as difficult to be selected. I wouldn’t even know what publishers to approach with a proposal on this. Thanks for commenting! 🙂


  9. I love these posts, Sheryl.

    The images are beautiful and the story behind each one is very special.

    I agree with Julie that this is a story worth telling.

    Congratulations on a great series of blog posts.



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