Paul White

Paul White’s latest series of works on paper forms a snapshot of the Australian outback. Artist Profile chatted to the Victorian-based artist ahead of his exhibition opening at May Space Gallery.

The works in ‘Dirty Diesel & Dusty Deeds’ are all based on imagery captured between Mildura and Broken Hill – what’s the significance of these regional areas?

The exploration of Broken Hill and Mildura follows on from previous work that came out of the deserts of North America. I was interested in the emptiness of these vast landscapes and the objects found within them, particularly those that speak of obsolescence and the passing of time. It was a natural progression to follow this journey closer to home. My partner is from Broken Hill so I was able to explore the town with local knowledge. I was inspired by films from my youth such as Mad Max and Wake in Fright, and how this landscape has been used similarly to the North American deserts as a representation of a post-apocalyptic world.

I was interested in the mined landscape in relation to previously explored locations such as the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley that are formed through very slow erosion. The large voids left in the ground from the open cut mines are like scars in the earth becoming artificial canyons, and are a reminder of how we take from the earth.

Three hours down an undivided highway from Broken Hill is Mildura, where I did a residency at the Art Vault. It’s a barren road that is littered with road kill; I was intrigued by the animal carcasses and how they related to my images of stripped out car bodies and mechanical deitrus.

This trope of wrecked cars features heavily in the show. What does it signify?

The wrecked cars have been a constant symbol within my work for some time. They come largely from spending time in wrecking yards as a kid getting parts needed to repair the family car and later as a young adult modifying my own cars. I was always fascinated by the stillness in junkyards full of in these once moving objects, in the stories that lay within the vehicles and the journeys they must have taken. They are symbolic of a stopping of time to now lay still and silent.

How do these drawings explore the different effects of human intervention on the landscape?

The town of Broken Hill was formed and is sustained through the availability of its mined resources. As a result, it’s surrounded by large voids in the ground, created from this still active mining. At certain times of the day you can hear the explosions underground. From the air you can see how close the open cut mines are to the town itself, it is almost as if the giant holes in the ground could swallow the town altogether. Human intervention has disfigured the landscape, highlighting the effects of our material needs. It makes you wonder how long the earth can cope with the abuse.

I’m also interested in the small towns where the economy has almost stopped, where many of the shops have closed down, the petrol pumps have run dry and the weeds are growing around cars abandoned in front yards. These scenarios can be like the imaginings of the post apocalyptic movies that inspired my search for much of this imagery.

To perpetuate the fraught relationship between humanity and the land, why did you focus on outback areas – where the human footprint is less emphatic than in urban society?

Urban areas are full of so much development and distraction that it becomes the norm. I have worked with urban areas in the past, particularly Los Angeles; in fact living there brought ideas of decay and transformation to the centre of my practice. I feel that when you leave the urban landscape and enter the rural your senses become heightened, there is less stimulus and you become more aware of how we have created and implanted a society on the land. Interventions seem clearer and there is a subtle menace of the land that is squashed in the city. All is stripped away and you are at the mercy of the land. You start to wonder what will happen if your car breaks down on this remote stretch of sun drenched highway.

Does this subject hold any personal resonance for you?

This show explores my ongoing interest in decay and transformation; in objects that have become disused or abandoned; in my relationship to the everyday and the landscape. All of my work comes from my movement through the world and is a document of places that I have been. The images I select are representative of my history and the drawings become an opportunity to relive and reflect on the memory of that that history and the moment the image was captured.

Can you walk me through your drawing process?

My drawings all come from photographs that I have taken on my travels, as a snapshot on a camera or my phone. Back in the studio I work with the photo directly in front of me on the computer screen as I draw. Whilst the initial photograph comes from a passing moment, the drawing process is slow and meditative. The process becomes a way of exploring the fleeting moment in great detail. It is a laborious process of layering and a thorough investigation of the image.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the show?

I hope that my drawings focus attention on elements of the everyday and prompt the viewer to consider their own place in the world. I’m not so interested in a didactic reading as creating a place for wonder.

Paul White | Dirty Diesel & Dusty Deeds
16 May – 2 June, 2018
May Space Gallery, Sydney

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