Current contemporary art in Australia has been greatly influenced by indigenous art. Yet as Europeans began to arrive in Australia so did their drawing, painting and art. Originally much of the visual representations were generally scientific in nature, designed to explain a strange distant land to Europeans. Joseph Banks as the botanist on the James Cook voyage to Australia was one of the first to document the incredible fauna and flora of Australia.
“While they were in Australia, Banks, Daniel Solander, and Finnish botanist Dr Herman Spöring Jr. made the first major collection of Australian flora, describing many species new to science. Almost 800 specimens were illustrated by the artist Sydney Parkinson and appear in Banks’ Florilegium, finally published in 35 volumes between 1980 and 1990. Notable also was that during the period when the Endeavour was being repaired, Banks observed a kangaroo, first recorded as “kanguru” on 12 July 1770 in an entry in his diary”
Most artwork around this time is of Australia’s distinctive flora and fauna. So foreign were many of the paintings that they were often regarded with skepticism; many thought that botanical illustrator Sydney Parkinson’s drawing of a platypus was a joke or trick.
More whimsical paintings were by foreigners trying to find meaning in the strange landscape. They especially liked to play with light, since Australia’s natural light was significantly different to European lighting. However as Europeans they struggle to capture the essence of what is Australia.
John Lewin and John Glover were both artists during this time. John Lewin’s 1808 painting Platypus is one of the most celebrated pictures of the early colonial period. John Glover, meanwhile, was among the first to capture broad Australian landscapes. I remember looking at one of his works as he struggled to capture the ‘strangeness’ of the eucalyptus. The tree trunks some how flowing…
I would argue that the visual beauty and variety of the landscapes of Australia have influenced most contemporary artists. The largest ‘sky’ the most alluring light has captured many an artist imagination.
My painting too seeks to understand and capture the light, colour and movement of the Australian landscape. Contemporary art throughout Australia needed to go on this long journey of discovery.