For many artists trained in the European tradition the Australian landscape was a mysterious and perplexing place until they saw it for themselves.
Darwin curator Daena Murray explores the influence of the landscape and the Territory’s Indigenous people on a broad range of artists who visited the Territory over more than two centuries in her new book The Sound of the Sky.
The book, published by Charles Darwin University Press, will be launched on Saturday (11 November) at the annual History Colloquium at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
Ms Murray, Curator of Visual Arts at the MAGNT for the past 13 years, will present a paper on selected artists from her book as part of the Colloquium.
The artists in her discussion include such famous names as Russell Drysdale, Sir Sidney Nolan and Margaret Preston, as well significant artists Jacqueline Hick, Godfrey Miller and Arthur Murch.
Her book, however, explores the influence of the Territory on more than 80 artists, beginning with William Westall, an artist on board Matthew Flinders’ ship Investigator as the crew explored the coastline in 1802-03.
‘The book takes a look at what happened to many artists trained in the European fine art tradition after they had seen the Northern Territory,’ says Ms Murray.
‘Its influence was often quite profound, with the artists being taken with the differences in the forms and colours they could capture. In some cases the impact was so great that the artists decided to concentrate on landscapes subjects for the first time after their visits.
'People down south could not believe that these artists were capturing the landscape accurately. They believed they were exaggerating the colours and had become in effect modernists.'
She says Sidney Nolan’s first trip to the Territory in 1950 was a landmark in his development as an artist. It was the first time he had painted a series where the subjects were solely landscapes.
‘Nolan was taken all over the Territory by plane and by truck, and spent a lot of time in the central desert. He returned on several occasions.’
Not all artists, however, were so taken by the landscape that they ignored the Indigenous communities. In fact the Hermannsburg Mission was a stopping place for these artists from the 1930s. Visitors such as Arthur Murch and William Ricketts created portraits of Aboriginal people.
The Sound of the Sky was also the title of an exhibition Ms Murray curated at the MAGNT earlier this year. The material in her book is based on her PhD, although Ms Murray says she has written a book designed for a wide audience.
* The Sound of the Sky ($75) will be available at major bookstores, CDU Bookshop and MAGNT bookshop.