Portraits of country
: a plein air painter in Arrernte country

  • Jennifer Taylor

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    In this study plein air painting practice is used to explore encounters with Eastern Arrernte country, Central Australia, and test the notion that this practice can support caring for country. Central Australia bears the visible legacy of violent colonial practices. The European landscape painting tradition has been associated with colonisation. This study draws on techniques, materials, and strategies from that tradition to give an account of place that is problematised, inquiring, and aligned with post colonial thought. Its practice-­‐based research methodology is informed by Indigenous research approaches and Arrernte protocols for community conversations about country.

    The thesis comprises two exhibitions of paintings and an exegesis of 45,000 words. The exegesis provides a context for the paintings, and describes the experience of painting in country through five key metaphors: thirst, beauty, haunting, portraits, and lost landscapes. ‘Thirst’ explores the desires driving plein air painting, and gives a phenomenological account of this practice as
    a discipline fostering relatedness to place. ‘Trouble with beauty’ asks how painting practice addresses the co-­existence of beauty and damage. European ideals of the picturesque and the sublime are considered alongside Arrernte perceptions of beauty in country. ‘Haunting’ asks how absence is expressed in plein air painting. It compares the trope of melancholy to sadness expressed by Arrernte people, and cites early contact histories in Central Australia as the context for such sadness. ‘Portraits’ examines the use of portrait painting to question narratives of place, and explores the notion of ‘portraits of place’. ‘Lost landscapes’ considers the assertion that contemporary Australian landscape painting is primarily concerned with loss. It asks how landscapes are lost and regained, and how painting can assert continuity of connection with country. It looks at painting as a conduit for memories of places lost through migration.

    The study concludes that plein air painting offers a model for encountering place that is non-violent, respectful, and may serve to restore suppressed narratives of place. For the painter, and potentially for viewers of the work, painting facilitates the quest for ethical relationships with country, and therefore has a role in caring for country.
    Date of AwardNov 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBirut Zemits (Supervisor)

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