As I travel through and across Australia, the more and more I understand the importance and value of the material gleaned at first hand.
Driving, flying, walking across the landscape provides me with the pace, tone and character of a place.
A sense of place, a feeling that can only really be understood and then expressed by spending extended periods of time in the landscape, for me that is, walking, sitting, painting, resting and keenly studying every nuance of every scene I encounter.
To internalise, to empathetically draw, literally the landscape. An interesting use of the word to draw, like a resource or fund, to draw on, or call on later when the material is required, as in in the studio, in the full flight of wresting a painting from the small works and memories and notes taken, one finds a tremendous fund of painterly ingredients come streaming through which can be astonishingly clear and complex.
To study and take note of the particular characteristics of a landscape and the various parts of it is an immensely sustaining ,enduring pusuit, as with every hour of driving and every spell of walking, the tone shifts, the soil changes color, the vegetation subtly changes. In recent trips into the desert and outback, I've begun to understand the immense value of spending time with the inhabitants of the land, black or white, farmers or rangers or stationhands or indigenous inhabitants, their knowledge and stories have made my experiences in the bush so rich and added so many layers of meaning to the whole business of being a painter. I realise now that I'm often painting a portrait of someones home, their place or telling a story of and through a place woven with my own, often new experience.
The more time I spend with people on these varying road trips the more I am aware that everything I see has meaning. Everything. Every fenceline, high water mark, every scar on every surface, the colour of every soil and sand in its proximity to the nearest water or the height at which it is found, seeing a line of old trees which stand where once a flood left debris and seeds at the high water mark and left a bank of all the perfect ingredients to nurse the gestation of seedlings at the edge of what now may look like a dry claypan dustbowl. The knowledge that illuminates what one is seeing enlivens the entire experience and offers a rich layer of implied information added for the months on end in the studio when one is painting it out.
Following songlines, landlines, rivers and highways is now an enchanting obsession for me. The leavening feeling that is brought by being granted permission and knowledge to wander and dream is one of great privilege, and often is the invisible ingredient in some of my favourite works. To camp in swags for days on end with the walpiri people in the tanami desert, or to talk in the mornings and evenings with the elders in the eastern flinders ranges, or indeed to stretch out on the deep verandas of a fine old farmhouse and soak up a lifetime of knowledge a farmer has to offer, are some of my most precious memories as a painter.
Every creature and organism that inhabits these perfect places is also revered, hence the regular and prolific occurance of birds and animals in my work. If ever I come across an animal by the road or in the bush I am invariably compelled to make a series of drawings of the poor creature, as a salute or prayer, to a beautiful thing, a still life, only for a moment, before it fades away. But while still, in life, though dead, I can make its life and death seemingly last a little longer by making an expression of it, having drawn it, through hand and eye just as the landscape, becomes part of my vocabulary my vernacular. - Luke Sciberras 2012