Lines and shapes are on my mind as I work out how I want to represent a bushfire ravaged landscape in a small format, 40cm x 40cm, to submit to Ozquilt’s call for entries for the next Australia Wide Seven exhibition. It’s juried of course, and though there is an option to include an artist statement which could explain my work a bit, I want the lines, shapes and colours to spell out the savagery inflicted by this year’s bushfires on the Australian people, their landscape and the national psyche. I have always said the best artist statement is a well chosen title, and that nothing more should be needed, so that’s another aim.
At various times in the late 90s I designed several quilts with fire themes, including these – all of which are entirely concerned with the action of fire itself, so I now see them as the primal fascination with flickering flame.
Australians are raised to respect fire and fear the speed with which it can leap out of control, surging up into the forest canopy layers, and, aided by wind, high ambient temperatures and volatile vegetable oils in the vegetation, flow out of control across the landscape in a phenomenon known as crowning. The fire races very fast, trapping animals and people beneath and ravaging everything in its path. News and social media coverage of the 2019-20 bushfire season in Australia, now mercifully winding down, gave the world dramatic but horrifying images of walls of flame which firefighters say are true to what they have often faced when fighting fires. The difference today is that every firefighter, firetruck driver, ambo driver, support personnel and evacuee has a mobile phone with a really good little camera, and from a few seconds’ pause in a zone of temporary safety can take a pic or two before moving on or away from danger. I have never been close to a wall of flame like that depicted in “Bushfire 4”, but I now know that what was largely my imagination twenty years ago in 2000, has been proved to be a fair representation of the reality of such a situation – lines of rapid motion, the strong colours of flames. What is not in any of those designs is smoke or any indication of the smoking blackened landscape surface after the fire has raced on.
Which brings me to the present. Recently I made my first couple of landscapes focusing on the aftermath of fire. Afterglow 2 I made for the SAQA auction later this year. It would be tempting to just make a larger version of this work, which was 25cm sq. But it has had such wide coverage that I think it could be recognised in the blind jurying process as something that’s already been done (derivative) Also, I’m almost out of the brown/black stripe! The other recent work I made which referenced fire and landscape in a semi pictoral way was FUTUREWATCH , which in a way might be transitioning to my current thinking about the aftermath rather than the process of burning itself.
Many of my quilts and quilting designs reference lines and shapes in and on landscape. My earliest art quilts, Ancient Expressions I – XIV, always contained a painted, stencilled, hand drawn, or as below, appliqued element of landscape. The whole series featured marks left by ancient Man in/on the landscape, and of course here I had the Egyptian pyramids in mind. As a geographer I was also thinking of the map symbols for mountains, but looking today at this quilt made 28 years ago, I am seeing more than I was aware of then. You could also read into the image ‘heaps’ of things such as mined coal, sand, gravel, and all the other minerals that come up out of the earth, to be crushed and stockpiled for transportation. Also there are two kinds of lines in the landscape segment – wavy lines representing the earth’s surface, and straight-ish tracks or roads or boundary lines …back then, I just put them in to give some perspective, they were no more meaningful than that.
Thanks to my friend Janet Jo of www.dyesmithy.com I have some very flame-like red/orange hand dyed fabric, enough for backgrounds for two 40cm x 40cm quilts. I want to use that rich colour and various symbols to depict results of fire in a landscape. Today’s writing is part of the thinking, researching, diagramming and list-writing steps I usually take to assemble my ideas.