The dreaming mind offers up much that is hidden. At the moment I’m working on a portrait of Les, an Aboriginal man I met when I was running a legal case for the Toomelah/Kamilaroi people of northern NSW. This painting is part of the Hidden Landscapes series I started when I was studying at the National Art School. Les lived in the same region where my great grandfather settled after arriving from Glasgow, Scotland in 1890. At that time it was still the frontier, a place where Indigenous people were killed and poisoned off the land. Les once told me, while quietly sitting by Boobera Lagoon, that his grandfather had been shot out of a tree by the lagoon. I didn’t register it at the time. Years later I had a dream of a violent clash between a huge Indigenous man and Europeans at a lagoon. And now I’ve come across a book at the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival, which details the killings on the frontier as it moved across northern NSW and Queensland. Timothy Bottom’s Conspiracy of Silence, Queensland’s frontier killing times published this year, sets out in detail this hidden history of violence. I’m thinking there is fertile ground here for new work in this, the early days of the 21st century, in continuation of the surrealist tradition, based on dreams and the hidden presence and history embedded in this powerful Australian landscape.
The British Museum has a fantastic exhibition on at the moment, Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. My mountaineering friend, and all round genius, Andi, over from New Zealand, just told me about it. This has reinvigorated my interest in painting dreams and the symbols the mind produces, and the interplay with landscape and the figure in the world.