Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Royal Academy: Australia

My friend Yvonne suggested meeting up and yesterday we caught up with each other at the Royal Academy to see the Australia exhibition which began a couple of weeks ago.

Like many thousands of other people I have family connections with Australia.  My grandmother sailed there from the UK in the early 20s to get married in Adelaide. My mother and her siblings were born and raised there until the 1930s when the family moved to the UK to escape the depression. I have cousins living in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and beyond and still I have never visited this great continent.

I've always had a curiosity about Australia and I can remember as a five-year -old believing that there were only two countries in the world and they were England, where I lived with my family, and Australia where the rest of the family lived. Fortunately my world view has expanded considerably since then but my curiosity remains much the same.

The only time I have experienced vast, open spaces was when I travelled with my husband by train across Canada. It took many hours just to get out of Ontario so I really have no conception of the size of Australia and the climate is so different from anything I have ever experienced.

I was unprepared for the impact these works of art would have on me and I found the gallery with large pieces of native, aboriginal art mesmerising. There were a couple of paintings that are on raised platforms on the floor so instead of the usual convention of viewing art vertically on walls you view these horizontally as you would a carpet. Once your eyes begin to range over the canvas and you become drawn into it you really get the feeling you are floating  above and exploring a vast, angular, mountainous landscape and although the canvas is flat the effect is three dimensional.

Quite a few of these works are collaborations between a number of artists but it is hard to spot this because the end result is a unified whole and some of the works are so large I don't know how they found the stamina to keep going.

The purpose of this exhibition is to show how Australia is deeply connected to its landscape and it spans more than 200 years of art since the early settlers arrived in the 1800s. As you walk through the galleries you are treated to a whistle-stop tour of Australia developing from small, rural outposts inhabited by pioneers to an urban, industrialised country with a huge presence on the world stage.

Some of the work from the early 20th century struck us as staged and mawkish but that must have been the fashion of the time and we could probably find similar examples in any other country during the same period. Fortunately there wasn't too much of that and then we were back to views of people on the beach, roads disappearing into the horizon, a family in a car.

There really was too much to see in one visit and we had to save several galleries for a second visit which we have time for because the exhibition continues until 8 December.

As someone who also feels an affinity with landscape I can't resist showing you this one which I painted in August in north Yorkshire.

View from Grinkle Park Hotel

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