Sylvia Ditchburn

Rainforest to desert: In search of the sublime
Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, Townsville
28 November 2003 - 8 February 2004

Over the last twenty years Sylvia Ditchburn has established a reputation as a leading regional artist with her very consumable landscape paintings of desert and rainforest scenes. Throughout this time, she worked prolifically as the consummate professional artist and backed this up with tertiary studies, ultimately completing a Doctorate in 2000.

While some of the works in this recent exhibition dated back ten years, most were created over the last four years. These more recent works document her fascination with the Australian landscape and her journeys outback to capture its essence in situ.

As we have come to expect with Ditchburn 's artworks, when entering the gallery we were immediately struck by the predominantly bright orange and purple colours of the paintings. The works are principally gouache on paper with a few oils and acrylics on canvas and are, as always, confident pieces and very, very vibrant. There is no doubt, though, that many of the landscapes are indeed saturated in these intense colours in real life and that Ditchburn is merely accurate in her rendering of them. In some instances, visitors to the exhibition were able to recognise the sites depicted.

Several of the works were based upon locations from the Townsville region, but the majority were the result of Ditch burn's travels across Australia. As gallery director Frances Thomson outlined in the catalogue: 'Ditchburn, the peripatetic artist, has spanned the continent from Townsville to Broome'.

As there were about sixty paintings from roughly eight locations, Ditchburn divided the exhibition into series of works from the different regions. However, without the labels having the corresponding series title, and with some works not being hung within their series, it was quite difficult to get a sense of which works were derived from the same source of inspiration. Even though the titles of most of the works were geographically self evident, the viewer had to keep that map of Australia in the forefront of the brain to 'group' the paintings, as subject matter and colouration could be quite similar in some works, despite being from entirely different areas.

Obviously, when a number of paintings from the same location were hung together, a close study revealed the influence of the site linking them and gave clues to the differences from one regional series to another. For example, Desert Woman on the Simpson (The Teapot) Simpson Desert Central Australia was clearly identified as being from the same location as the other works immediately surrounding it. These works all had less purple in the landscape and the orange was knocked back with ochres to capture the dry grasses and the different soil composition of the region. In some of the paintings in this Simpson Crossing series, Ditchburn double outlined parts of the tors and other natural structures, making the formations more clearly defined and a little more dramatic.

The artist demonstrated a range of techniques for each series of works, and the Finke Art Group series, for example, had a much looser approach than most of the other works. Caterpillar Dreaming on the Finke West MacDonnell Range Central Australia was a prime example of this with broad sweeps of orange and purple undulating horizontally across the background. Rainbow Lorikeet Landscape NQ provided two viewing options, as a group of Atherton Tableland (NQ) weavers produced a same scale rag tapestry weaving of the oil painting, and this was hung next to the painting.

Throughout the exhibition a ten minute looping DVD played, explaining some of the artist's journeys and sources of inspiration. As this review was being written, Ditchburn had just started a month long artist residency at the Sails in the Desert resort at Uluru with an abbreviated selection from this exhibition going on display at the adjacent Mulgara Gallery.