These paintings were about the garden, a celebration of nature and of personal growth. They date from 1990, my final year of high school, and overlap my first 2 years of art school at Monash University in Melbourne. They were in part derived from emotions aroused by the wind through the trees at night, gentle night rain and fragrant blossom, trying to capture something of the innocence of youth, flush with the expectation of cicada songs; daylight saving; holidays; cricket and mosquitoes. They can also be seen as a kind of garden of the mind where everything is in striving motion, leaning against memory and at dusk when resentments scuttle under the cracks of dark cupboards and I could embrace a simpler experience of life.
In the spring, our Canterbury garden was at its most intoxicating, wisteria with its feather boa train of flowers poking out from behind a hedge of poison ivy. Necklaces of forget – me – knots skirted the veranda, its lattice work knotted with a wild potato vine forming a lush barrier. Against this a banana plant flourished, freed from a stifling pot and the expectation of fruit. A mature — tree bordered a tardy lawn, its sap green leaves dispersed here and there with the striking cardinal red opulence of those ready to fall. These leaves had served as pretend currency as a child, a time when money really did grow on trees. And presiding over the whole enclosure was the stately oak with a gathering of ferns at its enormous foot to earth. With branches neatly spaced for ease of climbing and cicada hunting, this tree was the corner stone of the garden, a grand matriarch that shed hundreds of acorns every year, many of which took root in the top soil and leaf mould of the surrounding gardens. The leaves too would fall in their thousands and create oceans one could dive into, their dampness transformed into thick plumes of grey smoke when dumped in the flickering incinerator, gradually diminishing as the flames reasserted themselves. The place was forever linked to Sunday afternoons when private adventures had time to unfold and I was sure that there were things that I had discovered and knew about our bit of land that no one else did.
Most of all I liked the music of the place, largely shielded from street traffic, and only the proximity of neighbours and the regular distant squeal of metal on metal coming from the railway infringing on its sanctuary. Summer days were drenched in the periodic rattle of Cicada’s, and the sun would rise to an orchestra of magpie warbles and currawongs in the high branches. Indian Minors skipped along the top fence line and wattle birds pounced on the slightest movement, their eyes catching the light like liquid diamonds, gleaming until blinked. By night, other voices of owls and crickets could be heard kept company by hissing possums negotiating territorial rights. I was terrified of the dark and often found the short trek to the workshop in the back garden a harrowing experience if its lights were off. It was a different place then full of that which cannot be seen and so takes form in wild imaginings. But it was this dichotomy that also endeared it to me, full of the richness of the great world and never becoming so familiar that mystery be tarnished.
In the December holidays I locked myself away for a few weeks, alone with the largest canvas I had worked on at that time, beyond my powers of composition. The small room I painted in was adjoining my bedroom and had been my brother’s room until his fateful migration to the workshop. A cupboard had been removed to create a passage way, and the canvas seemed to fill the space back lit by windows overlooking the front ti-tree fence. It was an added delight to escape here, open to the flow of things and away from people and the intrusion of conversation. Relishing the challenge and channelling all the techniques ingrained during my first year of formal training, I began mapping out its construction, the smell of turps filling the room with its harsh aroma. My first themes appeared, taken from the swirl of branches streaming beyond possibility and the thickness of trunks belying the extent of their twist. Colours not belonging to the night emerged to assist the fracturing of the surface. I was interested in the rhythm of form rather than its illusionistic rendering. I wanted something believable in its feeling and vigour aside from achieving any kind of reality. The forces of nature exposed in the split second of a lightning bolt. Listening to a wild night I imagined the rattle of letter boxes; the bang of an unhinged gate, and the leaves like great dark mops flopping about. The paintings detail was less related to observations than to the emotional response evoked in the music of a wild night. Through the window, the street may appear quite still despite the howl of the elements, full of drama if you understand how to read it. Even after eyes have adjusted to the dark, hundreds of events are happening that cannot be seen, and by the time you acknowledge their existence they have already come to pass.