Tag: Australian artists

‘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


‘Air’ … the second Element Door

Yesterday’s post featured my painted door, Fire, from The Element Doors installation at The Gap State High School Library, Brisbane. Today’s art is the second door, Air. Monday’s blog – Water. Tuesday’s blog – Earth.

“Air” –  Sheryl Gwyther 2003

Each of the four doors has its own name – Air is also called That Eye the Sky. You recognise that name maybe? Yes, it’s a Tim Winton novel – a great story by an award-winning Aussie author.

Why call it after a piece of fiction? Because like most of my paintings, this one is about our Australian landscape. And in particular, the massive wheat-fields of Western Australia. It’s about the wide, open outback skies – their blueness with a light unlike any from Northern Hemispheres. I’ve never been to South America or Africa – maybe their sky is the same blue? 🙂 Or maybe it’s a trick of the light caused by reflection from the bare earth of Central Australia.

When I painted it, I imagined being able to see from horizon to horizon in one go – like you’re lying on your back in the air (if you know the artwork of William Robinson, you’ve know what I’m talking about).

William Robinson – ‘Summer Landscape’

So my wheat fields are both at the top of the picture and the bottom. The blues range from the yellow-y, pale blue closest to the horizon to the deepest blues in the middle. It’s the deep blues that draw the eye into the centre. I go through many tubes of blue paint – all types, but mainly Phthalo Blue. I can’t help it. I mix it with Burnt Sienna to make shadows, or pure, luscious colour in other parts. Phthalo Blue with a cool red, makes the most delicious Purple. 🙂

The colour blue has an amazing history – especially ULTRAMARINE Blue. Given its name by the medieval Italians (Oltramarino – ‘from beyond the seas’), most of the true colour pigment of Ultramarine comes from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. All of the real Ultramarine in both Western and European art came from one set of mines in a valley in north-east Afghanistan, Sar-e-sang, the Place of the Stone. (if you want to know more about the fascinating history of colour, read Victoria Finlay’s book, Colour.

Did you know that BLUE is the world’s most favourite colour? It’s a multi-cultural experience. I’ve often thought about that – could it be harking back to our prehistoric days when blue skies meant good weather=survival?

I did a quick survey of the teenagers in the Library at The Gap High School. They walked through the Element Doors every day, most didn’t even notice them, but some stopped to read the mixed media words on several of the doors and many of them watched as I painted the doors in situ – rather than work on their assignments etc at desks nearby.

My question – ‘What’s your favourite door and why?’
90% said Air. And why? A shrug of the shoulders and, ‘Dunno. Just do, that’s all.’ Interesting. 🙂

Note: Over 7 years, the students did not make a scratch or a mark on those four doors. The only cleaning I’ve done is a little grubbiness around the door handle, and a few scuff marks from the cleaner’s vacuum.

The Element Doors symbols – Sheryl Gwyther 2003

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