Tag: John Wolseley

‘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


On following one’s passion … whatever it is

A little over ten years ago I was a painter – not the house-painting kind, but on canvas.

I used to draw when I was a kid – without worrying what it looked like. But as an adult I never felt my drawings were good enough. So one day, in an attempt to do something about it, I cut back on my ‘real’ job and enrolled at the Brisbane Institute of Art as a part-time student. It was like finding something I hadn’t even realised had been lost.


From then on, art filled my waking life and even my dreams … which might have been the reason my husband caught me, fast asleep and swishing my hand through the air in wide, painterly strokes.

For nine years, I learned to draw and paint and understand the alchemy of mixing colour – under the tutelage of brilliant artists like Hollie, Glen Henderson, Sally L’Estrange and David Paulson. I lived, breathed and talked art, and probably bored my non-artist friends to death.

I do have one pang of regret though, remembering the day I told my young son to stop complaining and go make himself lunch because I didn’t want to stop painting. He made himself a rough banana sandwich and one for me. He was four at the time. It was 2pm and I had forgotten to eat lunch – alright for an adult, but not a child. And it wasn’t the first time I had done that. Bad mother!

I thought I would be painting until the day I dropped with brush in hand and the smell of gum turpentine up my nose. But no, an interloper crept up on the paintings … insidious, gentle TEXT.

‘land is memory memory is land land is memory memory is land’

I have never been happy with painting objects as they seem (although I loved to paint still-lifes every now and then), and going to BIA pushed me out of comfort zones. I loved when the abstraction of ideas appear in the images too.

When I studied painters who use text as part of their art – like the wonderful Australian artists Bea Maddock and John Wolseley,  words began to appear into my paintings more and more – paintings became narratives, demanding to tell more than what the images did.

I did a text-sprinkled painting about my grandmother growing up in the shadow of Walsh’s Pyramid and it wasn’t enough – the narrative filled my head until I wrote it down.

I was hooked. The path to writing for children followed soon after.

In the beginning it was easy to slip between the two forms of creating – they are so similar. A painting goes through many drafts like writing. Sometimes a mistake ends up a ‘happy accident’, offering a better solution to a problem in design or media, just like in writing. But writing demands much more than painting. Something had to give way…

What I once was with art, now I am with writing –  not answering the phone if I’m in fictional land; thinking, dreaming about characters, plots, dialogues and all. I try not to bore my non-writing friends, especially those who keep asking me when I’m going to paint more pictures or have another exhibition, but my head is never not filled with words.  I also relish any opportunity to spend time with my author friends talking writing and books.

But have to admit, I do feel pangs of regret I don’t make the time to paint anymore  – especially when I see my artist friends at their work-in-progress or talk to other artists about what they are doing. Or when I smell gum turpentine. Tubes of oils still sit in my studio, with blank canvases, my easel and brushes. I will paint again. One day.

Two of my paintings feature in the February 2010 issue of the Housten Literary Review online magazine.

(c) Images on this post are under the protection of international copyright laws and must not be copied without the permission of the author.