Visions of Landscape

Looking back now, it seems my whole adult life has been destined to mostly be spent on flat plains, as I have just realised my personal landscape vision would be very different if I had remained, in my birth place, Tasmania, that mountainous island state of Australia which I left in my early 20s to live in Western Australia and points beyond. However much I have thought about what inspires my art making and how my past has influenced the present (and presumably will do in the future) it surprises me that I have only just realised this fact!!

Abstract landscape Textures, 2022, 190xcm x 95cm. Whole cloth, handstitched, Quilt National ’21.

I’ve moved about a great deal, as my exploration geologist husband’s career involved searching for base metals on 3 continents. The Nickel Boom of the 60’s-70s took us to Western Australia, and, for a few years he was in the search for uranium in The Northern Territory and Far NW Queensland. Gold took us back to Western Australia again, and from there he was transferred to Denver CO, for a few years. He was involved in a successful entrepreneurial search for gold and other metals here in South America for about 20 years until retirement. For the first two decades of his career we lived and travelled across the vast regions of Australia’s Outback, with the characteristically flat, very low profile grassy plains occasionally sporting eroded outcrops of ancient landforms.

Typical ’rounded’ ancient rocky outcrop. (photo – Dennis Gee)
This is typical landscape in soooo much of Outback Australia

The north of the Australian continent is known as The Top End, and subject to monsoon seasons from late November until May. Normally dry river beds fill and start flowing over flood plains as the water makes its way to the coast or low lying central areas that become shallow inland seas briefly before they disappear into the aquifer or evaporate. Besides coming alive with animals, birds and plants, during that season often some areas will become impassable, sometimes for weeks, except where all-weather roads have been constructed. Even as I write, this process is proceeding across the land on a grand scale following excellent rains in the first 3 months of this year, meaning this will be a bumper year for wildflowers, tourism and beef production.

In May, The Dry develops again and prevails until November, by which time vast areas of the essentially flat continent have produced a lot of grass which eventually dies back to leave almost bare the characteristic red soils that are typical of our Outback. But people can once again move around for business and tourism, pastoralists can move their animals around and muster them, and mining companies engage in mineral exploration programs of surveying and mapping, soil sampling and drilling.

In total, I’ve lived about 20 years in the Outback – Western Australia, Far NW Queensland and The Northern Territory – around heavily eroded, round-topped rock outcrops rising out of vast low-profiled plains. Australia is the most ancient, most stable, flattest section of the Earth’s crust. Here I should add that from the late 80’s we spent 6 years in Denver CO, the westernmost suburbs of which are at the very start of the foothills of The Rocky Mountains. Heading East from Denver, it’s a couple of days’ drive on I-70 across the Central Plains states of Kansas and Missouri to the city of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. For mile after mile, there’s nothing of note., just flat cornfields, grain silos and some railroad towns – been there, driven that.

In the late 90s, Gold exploration brought the geologist+1 to Uruguay, a very small, flat country situated in another flat grassy plains region known as the Pampa, This Pampa covers much of S. Brasil, E. Argentina and contains all of Uruguay. A few mesa structures rise out of these plains, too, in the north and east, and the highest point in the whole country is only about 520m.

Exploration geos must move to where the rocks are, and after so many years near heavily weathered, ancient rocks rising out of flat plains, it’s hardly surprising that I see ‘landscape’ in very basic primal shapes of wandering lines and arc shapes representing rounded top hills. If I lived somewhere with active volcanoes or recently dormant ones, I’d probably be more inclined to visualise hills as triangles.

Following are some of my landscape quilts made during the last twenty years. They certainly form a series based on my vision of landscape, which, as I outlined at the start of this post, has been entirely developed over extended periods living on flat plains with occasional rounded rocky outcrops, that is, very ancient weathered surfaces 🙂

“Dreamlines 3” 2015 70cm x 40cm
Kimberley 2 2002 110cm x 70cm
Kimberley Dreaming, 2015, 40cm x 40cm
Purnululu #7, 2015 ~110cm x 95cm
Purnululu #8 2018 175cm x 95cm.

My techniques are always very simple and involve any or all of hand applique, machine piecing and reverse machine applique. In recent years I have used hand stitched marks in my surface designs and quilting, where they currently predominate, and I haven’t done any piecing for several years. Except for the first one, Abstract Landscape Textures, all the above were machine quilted. Many Australian Aboriginal artists in particular outline major shapes with lines of dots, and paint filler patterns within those shapes in that distinct style known as ‘Aboriginal dot painting’. It’s something akin to Pointillism, although the coloured dots tend to be more homogenous rather than several colours mixed for the colour blending that characterises the Post Impressionist work of the pointillists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Outlining something in a line of dots by hand, or for example with French Knots, is demanding of time and patience. While I never say “never”, in this case I’m pretty sure I will never fill in shapes with dots or knots… although now I think of it, a filler of French Knots is tempting…

2 Responses to “Visions of Landscape”

  1. Pam says:

    I really enjoy your posts Alison, and your recent ‘realistions’ are fascinating. You’ve made me consider primal shapes and landscapes in particular. I read Australian noir because the good writers evoke a landscape so clearly in my imagination as an essential part of the narrative.
    I grew up on the Yorkshire moors and am drawn to that landscape of my childhood freedoms. I have a visual and haptic memory of the details, but can I translate it into my art? Hum ho, I can’t make it work. Or perhaps I haven’t contemplated deeply enough. At one time I lived in a thatched cottage with a clear chalk stream running by, Stonehenge behind and a pastoral landscape all around us, although Salisbury plain wasn;t far beyond. We renovated a Long Barn on the peaty Lancashire moors all brown and ochre. I’ve walked my dogs by Keston Ponds – the nearest I get to moors since I moved to the London suburbs. Oh, and visiting Mum I would go for a needed walk on the tops for a dose of wild.
    So thank you Alison for helping me think about my landscapes and prompting a tingle of inspiration.

  2. Alison says:

    Hi Pam – thanks for your comments, because it’s fabulous to hear when I’ve inspired someone’s ideas. It’s interesting that every now and then I meet someone who says ‘Oh yes, I always follow your blog…’ – but if they’ve never left a comment I’m in the dark, flying blind so to speak, not that’s it’s really important – I just write, because I’m one of the people I’m writing to in what is essentially an artist’s diary, which I find useful to help fine tune my thoughts, and as you can see, it can take a while for a penny to drop, such as realising that I’ve been living on gently undulating grassy plains since 1969… So now, is this Pinks Pam I’m writing to? If not, that question will sound quite odd, but just disregard it if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about!! (I know several Pams, but think this sounds like P.P.) I haven’t experienced the Yorkshire moors although we did go to Stonehenge OMG, and ended up staying that night in Avebury in a B&B next to a hotel there – wandering in amongst the stones on a moonlight night about a week before the Solstice was magic… OMG what a wonderful time all that was. A few years before that trip I’d read “Sarum” by Edward Rutherford – a fascinating saga fictionalisation of the long sweep of human history in the Salisbury Plains region, which I fully recommend if you haven’t read it, and I recently listened to it on Audible. If you are “P.P”, I’ll have to ask you to tell me what tops are and how they differ from moors!

Leave a Reply

Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).

All images and text are © Alison Schwabe
Reproduction of any kind is expressly prohibited without written consent.

Translate »