Visions of Tarkine 2
March 10, 2019
Marks another spur of the moment road trip into the Tarkine. This time I was determined to connect back to Hobart via the west coast, a route that is infamous for its desolation and rough terrain. Off to an early start and a forecast of nice weather I made my way up the 1, traffic free bound for Boat Harbor Beach. I felt it would be nice to revisit some of the locations I previously stayed since last time I was so heavily rated out. I arrived to Boat Harbor Beach just in time for an afternoon tide-pool session and a refreshing beverage and chips as the sun set beyond Rocky Cape. A friendly stewardess at the Boat Harbor Beach Surf Club Cafe mentioned a surf competition taking place in Marrawah the next day. I thought this would be a great way to check out some of the local shredders and rekindle memories of the many years I spent surfing competitively. I jotted this to my list of stops before settling down at Julius Rivulet to set up camp.
Extreme plein air painting!
On the way to the surf comp in Marrawah I was struck by an IPO (Immediate Pull Over). I hurriedly made a U-turn, parked and gathered my paints. When dealing with IPO's you must be quick and stealth, sneak up on the location ready to paint without a minuet to spare. This is to prevent any loss of inspiration, as inspiration is an ephemeral concept and slowly dissolves away after initial impact. It was a small forked tributary by the name of Pegg's Creek and a bit hectic for plein air in the sense there were giant semi's and traffic zooming by only feet away separated only by a metal guardrail. I settled my easel amongst various species of road kill at different stages of decomposition. It was a beautiful and serene landscape, with layers of texture and pattern. I was able to utilize my Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Umber to depict some of the deep peaty tones in the creek. Periodically a caravan of large trucks would zoom by and I would hold my hat down to keep from flying off my head. I remember thinking...If this is how I'm going to go, well hey at least I'm doing something I love...and would continue painting. Anyway, I lived and continued my drive entering the outskirts of the Tarkine.
I find it fascinating how the boundaries of the Tarkine vary from map to map. The "outskirts" of Tarkine's northwest is bountiful with grazing livestock and agriculture. The pastural landscape reminds me of a John Constable painting with a clear distinction between land that is wild and that which has been tamed. There are plenty of fences, borders, and huge grass fields that were once covered in eucalyptus forests housing wombats and devils but now home to cows and sheep. Those landscapes were wild, these ones are tame and lucrative. I could feel the pride radiate from the processed land and thought how it must be hard yet rewarding to work as a sheep or cattle farmer connected to the land through a special relationship that doesn't exist in city life. My eye catches a couple large black cows huddled across some ochre terraced hills. For this painting I'm interested in the play between the resting cows and an enormous old pine protruding from the dry grass like a jagged antenna of wild, broadcasting messages of mediation between the old-growth eucalyptus tree line in the back ground and the tired cows resting in the foreground.
The cows had gotten a bit of stage fright by the time I snapped this picture...
After arriving in Marrawah I stopped to watch a couple heats at Surfing Tasmania's northwest stop in a state wide competitive surfing tour. I spent a majority of my life surfing competitively. Watching the groms getting amped before their heats brought back memories of joy and loss as they battled it out in some clean offshore surf. The stoke was on and people were ripping, had there not been a contest in the water I would have jumped out for a couple waves myself, but I guess I'll just have to save that for next time.
I arrived at Julius Rivulet a couple hours before dusk and brought my gouache paints out for a bush walk into the old-growth myrtle sinkholes. Aside from various birdcalls the forest lay quiet, and green. The greens are surreal vibrating waves of energy that lend to a kinetic feel. I sat alone and the forest was still yet the presence of life was vibrant and animated. Gouache paints are perfect for quick studies, all you need is a little water and some paper. They allow me react on sudden impulses of inspiration lending to a unique interaction with the landscape. The rest of the afternoon was an arboreal meet and greet of different tree stumps, ferns, and epiphytes. I listened, analyzed, and recorded their stories through paint as I observe their different features, color, rhythms, and form. I vowed to return in the morning and headed back to camp for a quick dinner and rest.
Organic decay studies amidst the sinkholes of Julius Rivulet
Man Ferns, Julius Rivulet
The next morning it was back into the forest with my gouache paints for a couple more studies of decaying stumps that I will later turn into larger studio pieces. It was a warm sunny day and sun rays pierced through the canopy illuminating moss covered stumps. Vivid hues of green refracted and brandished even greater illumination from light bouncing back and forth amongst the tiny droplets of due. The ground is padded with soft shedded foliage making for a unique feeling, a squish, almost like walking atop something alive, and in many ways it is. A fellow Tarkine artist and all around Tasmanian Wilderness Guru named Tim Cooper recommended I check out a road-block camp near the Sumac lookout for insight into the current state of the Tarkine as well as information of various routes of exploration.
* You can check out Tim's enthralling photography here www.tcooperphoto.com
The camp near Sumac Lookout
I stopped by and was introduced to a group of hearty passionate individuals with one thing in common, to protect and stop deforestation of the Tarkine. This camp supported by the Bob Brown Foundation was assembled to impede one of the roads used to cut down old-growth forest. We sat around a fire and enjoyed a cup of coffee trading stories and concerns about the ancient temporal rainforest we were surrounded by. I accepted an invitation to camp for the evening eager to learn more about what is currently being done to protect the Tarkine as well as ways I could get involved with helping. I explained how my graduate program is based on raising awareness to the deforestation of the Tarkine and how I believe in the importance of using my art as a tool to promote awareness to issues I'm passionate about. We got along just grand! As the sun reached its zenith, a friendly fellow by the name of Peter also the camp manager tipped me off to some recently clear felled forest just down the road. It being a public holiday I hopped on the opportunity to paint some plein air of the recent destruction.
The forest had been reduced to splinters, many different sized splinters, and instead of glowing green like the undergrowth of Julius Rivulet, the landscape glowed orange from the freshly cut inner flesh. It was a scene of destruction and displacement. This is the side f the Tarkine people need to see. This is the sight that forces you to stop and reassess what's going on and begin asking questions. I set up my easel and painted a gigantic lone old-growth eucalyptus surrounded by its recent clear felled grove, jagged and skewed like the aftermath of violent one-sided battle. Vehicles lay strewn across the debris, powerful drills, jaws, and claws rested lifeless hibernating until the twist of a key awakens them. A wedge tailed eagle perched high on a limb along the outskirts of the battleground watched me as I painted.
Studies of harvested stumps
I feel by documenting these events I can help to give voice to the voiceless. Who will win the battle? Is it the eucalypt giant who grew too large to be felled? Or us who will ship these ancient logs off to be processed and chipped? Ancient Gondwanic rainforest replaced with anticipating speedy growth on saplings whose only existence is to be chopped. The loss of an ecosystem that cannot recover, and the spiral of destruction that will pursue. After a couple gouache harvested stump studies to contrast the organic decay from earlier that morning I stopped for a quick painting of the Arthur River from beneath Kanunnah Bridge.
A dark and peaty Arthur River
Two older fellows accompanied me along the river panning through the mud in search of what I'm guessing was gold. Their Bull Terrior at the top camp relentlessly howled as they relentlessly sifted through the pebbled banks making for a soundscape that transcended me to the outskirts of a 1890's mining town. I wished the fellows luck and headed back to camp for an evening of stories around a campfire. Just as dinner was ready to be served the ambassador of camp, protector of the Tarkine, and animal rehabilitation legend Scott Jordan pulled up with reserves of food and insightful knowledge on our surroundings and information on what we can do to help protect it.
As yawns were passed from one side of the fire to the other it was time for some rest. The camp had set up a couple free-hanging tents in the forest that tagged to for harvest. A couple of the tents were vacant and I decided to camp out, suspended in the trees we were protecting, suspended in time.
My suspended tent for the evening in an area tagged for clear felling
After a morning coffee and a slow goodbye I exchanged information with my new friends and headed down the infamous C249 dirt road that leads down the west coast. The drives in Tasmania are a whole other story. Windy dirt tracks with no-one around, weather conditions that seem to change at the drop of a dime and endless side roads that any adventurous heart feels destined to explore. I tend to get involved with a mixture of all these variables. I often find myself saying, "Your already here, might as well go for it" this goes for making paintings or turning down random dirt roads just to see whats at the end.
The C249 was awesome, a winding dirt road, misty and cold with on and off showers that periodically cleared revealing atmospheric valleys of eucalyptus forest. I spent this portion of the drive listening to Bach Brandenberg Concertos 3, 4, and 6 on repeat that complemented the edge of the world feeling quite well. Symphonic is a term that describes an elaborate instrumental composition varied with harmonious sounds, yet symphonic can also apply to the colors, shapes, and form of a landscape, harmonious, unified, complementing and interacting with each other.
Further down the road I stopped to check out the small seaside towns of Granville and Trial Harbor. The swell was colossal and unruly, white capping out as far as the eye could see rolling into the shore like a stampede of wild beasts and pounding against the rocky shoreline. Later that afternoon I winded my way through the old mining towns of Zeehan and Queenstown, stopping by Horse Tail Falls before continuing the rest of the drive home under nightfall.
That night I reminisced on the friends I made, establishing a base camp in the heart of the Tarkine, and discovering a plethora of avenues that I look forward to returning to with my paints. Around every corner of Tasmania lies an exciting adventure enticing with challenges that reclaim what it means to be human and rewards that reinforce the identity of a plein air painter.