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The title Un-framing is more of a concept than a theme; it challenges the discourse of European picture making and the picturesque as it moves towards a new realm of identification with the Australian landscape. We see artists of the calibre of Ray Crooke and Robert Preston maintaining a lengthy connection to the Australian tropical region whilst others like Donald Friend, John Coburn, Fred Williams, Sydney Nolan and Arthur Streeton are more fleeting. Ross Searle, in his publication Artists in the Tropics (1991), acknowledges that very few artists have had much impact in the development of a wider arts practice in North Queensland. An exception is Anneke Silver who has made a significant contribution, particularly in revisioning the land as something akin to a spiritual cycle. This perceptive Dutch trained artist, who settled in North Queensland in 1961, has emersed herself in the landscape and produced work which is different to that of many male artists.
Un-framing notices the untidy expanses of the Australian landscape, not the quintessential southern landscapes of Heysen, Streeton and McCubbin but a harsh pasty landscape that shimmers in the moist heat. Canyons and gorges are featured, highlighting the beauty obscured by our preconceived notions of the picturesque. Un-framing unlocks the European gaze; Silver’s eye attaches to an unorthodox beauty—the picturesque remains provisional in her studies of flood plains and estuaries revealing a mass of minor channels and tributaries that resemble serpentine tentacles. Her palette is subdued, with pink, umber, and dirty yellows scuffed up to semi-translucence—the scenes are fragile but enduring.
Many of the works are produced in multi-faceted sections. Silver’s European training and familiarity with late medieval altar panels and icons are redirected into the northern Australian landscape. The views explode into a series of segmented vistas, as if leading toward an ultimate resolution—but not an obvious one. The larger works show a resolve marked by exploration and experience, and a sense of knowing the land well. These works, especially, The Secret of the Grasslands, 2006, Land into Sea, 2006 and Water from Rock, 2006, engage a level of empathy beyond pure observation.
Living in North Queensland for more than forty years has given Silver a vantage in recognising the change that comes with regional development. Un-framing critiques the property boom of the coastal regions as developers seek out every last vestige of uninhabited space, leading the ‘randomness of natural space’ to evaporate under the planners ubiquitous grided template.
Many of the smaller works in the show are more didactic and peppered with a litany of physical objects that carry a much stronger message. The small excavators, trucks, chainsaws and guns speak of overt desecration, but the picket fence and overlaid urban subdivision maps reek of more sinister contemporary culture. These works lack the poetic quality of the larger works but are no less direct in their message.
Sunrise over a Familiar Place 1-8, 2006, is an eight panel coastal landscape rendered simply in washes of oil and glaze. Over the paintings a data projector beams a series of digital images showing multiple high rise apartment buildings, anticipating the inevitable decline of open space. The grided window facades and minuscule balconies amass, almost like advancing armies as they seek to assume the high ground to conquer space and gain a glimpse of ocean views. Increasingly the natural rhythms of coastlines are scoured and sanitised with high-rises looking back and forth to each other.
Silver’s audience was also exposed to the simple beauty of unspoilt coastal landscape in a series of small water colour sketches that remain true to the tradition of landscape painting. Perhaps the epitaph of the show is an exquisite fifteen panel work entitled Chain, Mount Stuart and Beyond, 2006. This distilled vista captures the essence of the Northern Queensland landscape articulated in translucent wisps of blue oil, painted on tiny gold leaf surfaces and resembling dazzling jewels; perhaps a metaphor for ‘the land’ in the developers gaze.