Not the Way Home | Curator’s Note

Twelve-months in the making, Not the Way Home is an exhibition of new work made by thirteen artists in response to the arid desert landscape of far-west New South Wales.

In May 2011, ARTIST PROFILE, in conjunction with art material specialists Winsor & Newton, relocated a group of painters, sculptors, and drawers from their everyday lives to Fowlers Gap – a research station owned and managed by the University of New South Wales, located about 90 minutes from Broken Hill.

The landscape surrounding Fowlers Gap is a foreign beast for most of us from an urban, metropolitan centre – void of much technology, infrastructure, and the creature comforts of our everyday lifestyle. The sky is seemingly infinite, uninterrupted by manmade structures and stretches on into the distance. The usual hum of the city centre is nonexistent and silence prevails.

This arid outback environment is steeped in artistic legacy and has played a significant role in Australian art. The likes of Pro Hart and the brush man of the bush, naive painter Sam Byrne, and past painting heroes Fred Williams and Clifton Pugh – like them or loathe them – built careers painting the desert landscape, recording the harshness of the land as postcolonial Australia found its identity. Of deeper significance, Indigenous Dreaming stories are marked and etched into the rocks of sacred sites around these flat hills, keeping the stories alive and passing them on from one generation to another over thousands of years.

In our fast-paced, globalised society – where Australia is exploring its role in an international economy, these histories can often be forgotten. Artist Profile saw the opportunity to present these contemporary Australian artists with the opportunity to reflect on their histories and the context of their role as artists in this country.

For two weeks the artists made this area their home. The artists were supplied art materials, they were housed and fed, and local experts took them on tours of the area. We extricated them from their usual routines, from the distractions of the everyday, and also their comfort zones.

The brief? Make a body of work in response to the landscape and their experience as a whole…

The foreignness of the space forced the artists to look in new ways at their surroundings. The vastness of their landscape made them rethink the manner with which they depicted space within their pictures; the harsh, strong light of the outback also made them reconsider their palette choices.

Not the Way Home is a chronicle of the work by the artists and the way each, quite uniquely, confronted the challenge of interpreting Fowlers Gap in artworks. Comprised of sketches and paintings made in the landscape, as well as larger scale works rendered back in their studios, Not the Way Home offers an insight not only into the great Australian landscape but into the psyche of an artist as they try to unpack and translate an experience into their chosen form of art.