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Patrick Connor is a visual artist and educator, teaching at Central Queensland University Austrailia. This web site introduces some of Patrick's most recent work which have been developed for an exhibition to be held at the Rockhampton Art Gallery in June 2016.



Welcome. This web site has been developed to coincide with the exhibition ‘Absence/Presence: Saraji Landscapes’, to be held at the Rockhampton Art Gallery from the 4th June, 2016. As well as providing a sneak peek at the works developed for the exhibition, the site intends to share my thoughts and working methods associated with the production of many of the paintings for the show. This invitation into my studio, I hope will be of interest to my students and the general viewer.  Select a painting from the site’s gallery and then check the blog to view its stages of development from initial drawings through to completion.

The Exhibition


There were a few catalysts that were important in the conception of Absence/Presence: Saraji Landscapes. In 2012 I was fortunate enough to win the inaugural Bayton Award at the Rockhampton Art Gallery. Associated with the award was a residency with a generous purse of $5000, provided by the Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust. The intent of the residency was to assist in the production of new work. It was suggested that local landscape would make a good subject for a project such as this. The challenge had been set.


Just prior to winning the Bayton Award, I visited BMA’s Saraji open-cut coal mine, just north of Dysart, Central Queensland. Anybody who has visited an open-cut mine would understand the strange mix of feelings from viewing such a dramatically altered landscape. Standing at a high point in the middle of the mine, I was surrounded by visual drama and was aware of an uneasy beauty and a disorienting and oblique desolation. I also remember thinking that the enterprise was exciting, even heroic as everything at the site was herculean in scale. This paradox of feelings was unsettling. An awareness of these contradictory feelings stayed with me and had me scrutinse my own thoughts further.

Deep, excavated trenches with near vertical cliff walls revealed horizontal layers of soil, rock and black coal. These horizontal striations were crossed with vertical stripes, cut into soil and coal by the metal teeth from excavator buckets.  The action of erosion in the top soils around these vertical cuts created multi-coloured gothic structures and friezes that echoed the drama and portent of the site. Strangely beautiful mounds of dumped soil, unmoved for maybe years, had become like the ruins of ancient shrines via the action of water. The panoramic views, the textures and details left a surreal impression.







With this project in mind I sought access again to the Saraji mine to take photos. Over twelve months later I finally received notice of approval to take photos of the site for the purpose of this exhibition. I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally return with a camera and to be escorted through the whole operation by Chad, a career coal miner and family man. Thank you BMA and Chad for your support in this project.


The visual drama and the politics of place surrounding sites like Saraji became my entry point for the challenge set by the Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust.

The initial idea:


I did not see myself as a landscape painter. My friend Peter Indans, however was a painter of powerful and enigmatic landscapes. It was with a painting about his death that I won the Bayton Award. The thought of completing a series of works about landscape offered me the perfect opportunity to pay homage to him. Unlike in works that I had made before, I imagined that in these paintings his influence would be discernable.  It seemed like the perfect way to show him my respect and gratitude for the things that I had learnt from him over the years of our friendship.



The term landscape comes to me with multiple meanings. Or rather, its meaning is constructed from various sources. As well as stirring memories of places that I have seen and some places I have come to know well, the word landscape for me is inextricably bound up with certain paintings. When learning to paint as a boy I would borrow books from the library that had beautiful colour plates of our iconic Australian paintings in them.  I studied the plates keenly, looking hard at the brush strokes in a vain attempt to work out how these beautiful objects were made. The paintings of W.B. McGuiness and Sir Arthur Streeton were very instructive, especially where you can see the trace of filbert brush moving paint deftly, wet into wet. I remember the bleaching intensity of Streeton’s full, mid-day sun, and by contrast the luminosity and colour magic from painters like Sydney Long and David Davies, painting romantic visions at dawn or dusk. Streeton’s ‘Land of the Golden Fleece’ in particular, left a strong impression. It seemed quintessentially Australian and enviably complete.



I wonder if for many Australians, their sense of the Australian landscape is imbued with attitudes and colours borrowed directly from the arts. Patterson, Lawson, Lawler, Wright, Herbert, Mc Cubbin, Namatjira, Drysdale, Williams, Nolan, Pugh, Smart, White, Winton, Kngwarreye, Flannagan, Gascoigne, all add something to the amalgam that we draw from to approximate a definition for the term Australian landscape. So ubiquitous is the influence of literature and the visual arts that popular works become the furniture in our minds. Curiously, these subconsciously rendered phrases, passages of colour and carefully arranged sticks are mere artifice, knitting tightly, facts with fictions. Perceptive observations are fixed in place and framed with the prevailing attitudes of the day. The paintings, prints and contemporary works that may be said to comprise the history of Australian Landscape art, offer a continuous and descriptive narrative of our changing attitudes to the landscapes we call our home. Whether populated with people or not, we are in these visions. They are not and can never be neutral. They say as much about us, as the places they intend to represent. From early colonial depictions to contemporary reflections, they make for an incomplete and compelling national portrait. Together they tell a story of people and place.

When considering how to approach the Saraji Landscapes I had this tradition in mind. I decided that I would be presumptuous enough to attempt to add something to this story. To do so, I imagined borrowing from certain features consistent with the tradition. I would select and adopt certain codes indicative of the genre and in so doing make reference to it. Via a general paraphrasing of certain familiar characteristics from the Australian landscape tradition, I hoped to set up and emphasize a distinguishing contrast. Under a romantic, light-bathed horizon I wished to picture a landscape, where in fact, the landscape had been removed. The idea intrigued. If the landscape had been removed, what then had taken its place?



The removal of the ‘landscape’ creates a new ‘space’ that is at once both modified landscape and something that is not landscape at all. This excavated space can never really be empty. It becomes filled with the concepts that we bring to it. The walls at the mine’s extremities thus become a container. The question is: ‘a container of what?’ The absence of the landscape becomes transformed into a provocative presence.


The paintings in this exhibition pose the question of what these radically transformed places actually mean to us. Whatever their meanings, I think they are shifting.  Open cut coal mining has been a part of Central Queenslanders' relationship to place for a long time. Curiously, the attitudes surrounding our mining industry seem to be changing.



For me, the mine sites become visual signifiers for the epic dilemma facing contemporary policy makers and by extension the community of Queenslanders. Our Queensland economy is structurally wedded to the extraction of fossil fuels. Open cut coal mines and recent LNG projects become visual metaphors for the policy battleground where economic and environmental interests face-off. With growing concern about global warming, attitudes surrounding both the economy and its intertwined relationship with the environment are under more scrutiny than ever. How we disentangle the economic benefits derived from the sale of commodities like fossil fuels from the strategies required to minimise the impacts of climate change is the primary question underlying this exhibition. A desire to shift traditional and ideological ways of considering economic policy coupled with investment in innovation may be the only responsible way forward.


As with most things, there is a time frame involved. Have we the collective conviction to enact these cultural changes within the predicted time frames? I would like to think of these paintings as markers of a time when we are confronted with the challenge to change. Time will tell what our response has been.

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