7-26 November 2016
The Depot Gallery
2 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney
My exhibition in November will have some early works and new works influenced by 18th Century English Romantics.
In the middle of the 1980s I produced a number of works on paper and a few paintings with cattle in the landscape. They were straggly animals enduring a depleted eroded country. I admired their stance, their karma as they take what's thrown at them from the elements in a meditative fashion, whether it's the middle of a hot day under a gum tree or standing in a field in the winter's rain. They are not romantic depictions but the recent works are.
This year a number of my works have been inspired by a postcard I came across while helping a friend move house. 'the sleeping shepherd, early morning', an etching by Samuel Palmer from 1857, is almost the same size as the postcard. Having not seen the etching I look forward to viewing it at the Australian National Gallery which has the 1st print (of only 4).1 Palmer was an English romantic who knew Blake. Palmer made the etching 30 years after Blake's death.To quote Blake 'the imagination which liveth for ever'. So it may be possible for this work to never die.
What makes this work so powerful is the richness and depth of the narrative. The shepherd is just waking while the ploughman has already begun to furrow on the hill. The sheep are jostling as the sun gets in their eyes. The detail of the very few possessions of the shepherd, a towel hanging on a hook, a water jug and ofcourse his crook nearby, are intimate and humbling. There is a feeling of moisture in the air and a second flock sweeps up gently from the centre of the work to see if the ploughman may serve some breakfast as he opens up the earth. I like the way this flock of black crows rise above the field in the moist dawn air. This is portrayed by small delicate lines above the crows before the lines mingle with the branches over the shepherd's shelter which would love to be a gothic cathedral.
What makes you believe in the story is the sensibility and feeling he has created by using an extensive range of tones being employed by building up many fine lines. At the same time he has made the sky act as a breathing place and you have a sense of visionary wonder.
The herdsman, sherperd and shepherdess had a certain bond with their animals which in industrialised countries disappeared long ago. The shepherd in the etching is still half asleep because he would have been awake until the early hours of the morning protecting his stock from wolves but I also like to imagine he enjoyed watching the night skies.
Sydney, April 2016
- Samuel PALMER Great Britain 1805 – 1881, The sleeping shepherd [Early morning] (1857), Purchased 1978 NGA 78.1029.15