Sallie Moffatt

In my drawing practice my aim is to collapse my seeing and drawing into a single point in time. I want to see the space around this point as it flows to the next point and becomes a line and as it spreads into the space around it, becoming tone.  I attempt neither to pre-empt the point with expectation nor to hold onto it once made, so that my connection to the visual object, the landscapes, is simple, continuous and immediate. My aim is to understand my own reality: the physical environment, my mental processes, and the relationship between them.

At art school, I was taught that the practice of representing the world around me was invalid as a mature art practice, no more than meaningless mimicry of nature. To be ‘real art’ one needed to consciously construct an interpretation of the world. This teaching aligns with the 16th and 17th century Hierarchy of Genres, a set of artistic values which held sway until Romanticism saw the rise of landscape as a valuable tradition. As a young art student, I found the choice between Narrative Classicism of the universities (Academies) and Abstract Mannerism of Late Modernism both led me into a finite set of stylistic cliches.

In place of the idea of art as a conscious construction, I allowed myself to respond instinctively to my local environment. I began drawing and painting my world in the simplest, clearest, frankest terms that I could find. I wanted to allow formal abstraction to have a meaningful reason to exist in the work as a reaction to the social complexity of globalisation, and the physical imbalance it causes.

Having abandoned the desire to create formal abstract works, I spent the next 6 years drawing locally, using whatever formal tools were most applicable to the subject and scale. In 2004 my family and I spent 10 months camping around Australia, removed from society, engaged only with the natural environment: the coast, the bush, the desert. (The ability to experience this level of social isolation is a peculiarly Australian one.)  Coming from urban plein air landscape painting, my work changed gradually, in response to the fluidity of the unbuilt world;  where light does not create shapes but flows and ripples between limbs, over rocks, among leaves; where there is no such thing as definition and every element responds to others; where nothing is rigid, stationery or solid, and two minutes of time can change a landscape entirely.

Living now in Suburbia, my landscape is neither urban nor natural but a tense interaction between the two. Buildings carve their way out of foliage creating definition, while nature folds itself around the linear.

I value the physical, the sensory and the unspoken, in a world saturated by mechanical and digital imagery and information. The camera reads all elements equally, but the human eye dwells for different times on different elements. It holds on to points in the landscape and connects it with memories, simplifying, enlarging, ignoring, valuing. That we misread the world around us is not due to the simplicity of our brain but to its complexity. This misreading is the more interesting aspect of the process of seeing and drawing because it shows me my assumptions about the world, the unconscious activity of the brain or, one might say, its real intention. This subjectivity is what makes the work human.  A landscape may be devoid of people, it may contain remnants of humanity, it may be dominated by humanity or even eclipsed by it. It may be a broad sweep of space or an intimate one. Yet, whatever the ‘field’, or the time spent on it, the visual experience and the process of describing that visual experience leads one inexorably to the recognition of transience, fragility and impermanence: the essence of nature, both human and non-human.

It is this sense of fragility and fluidity of the human experience which interests me, the mistakes of perception and the realisation of those mistakes, the correction and re-evaluation of one’s perception. What sustains me is the surprise of discovery, the paradigm shift, which is only felt when one is able to acknowledge one’s perceptive bias. The built environment, the conceived object, imposes a rigidity through which nature flows. Conscious intentions are the built environment through which my perceptive bias, my real intention flows. I draw from the physical environment in order to understand my own belief system, to acknowledge my mortality.

Photos give me power by allowing me to conquer time, freezing history in a fraction of a second, connecting me to all other humans via a common visual language. When I draw from photos, I can create a powerful image: defined, arresting and muscular. Yet along with history, perception is also frozen; that is, the interaction between the mind and the multiplicity of sensations that it receives from the body. The photo makes us all eye. It does not show us the feel of the wind, the sensation of coldness, the sound of nearby water or traffic.  It is these sensations which distract us from the visual, when we draw from life, yet which also fill out our humanity.  Drawing from life is less secure and comfortable than drawing from photos but provides me with the nourishment of a slow-cooked meal in a fast-paced life. Where it respects the multitude of physical, emotional and social parameters and where it continues to be unbounded by intention and didacticism, it can provide us with nourishment which goes beyond the gratification of the physical and the intellectual. It gives a sense of balance.  It draws us into a relationship with an individual…without words or agenda, and perhaps makes us feel less lonely, more human.

Sallie Moffatt

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