GLOVER PRIZE WINNER
Oil on linen
In his latest novel Australian author, Alex Miller describes Tasmania as “that land of melancholy and despair, haunted by the ghosts of human suffering and cruelty”*. This painting attempts to capture the traumatised psyche of the landscape at Port Arthur.
It’s a place occupied by the ghosts of past events. The native Pydairrerme people of the Tasman Peninsula were eradicated in the early 19th century, their violent displacement making way, ironically, for the incarceration of Britain’s reprobate convicts. Inmates there experienced unspeakable hardship and cruelty. Today, the vision of romantic sandstone ruins rising from virescent lawns serves to soften the wounds of the site’s dark past. Those wounds were brutally re-opened, however, with the 1996 massacre by Martin Bryant of 35 people, which has added yet another layer of anguish to this damaged landscape.
This painting attempts to capture the sinister mood that continues to pervade Port Arthur today. It depicts the bucolic scene of Mason Cove, a landscape reminiscent of a painting by Constable or Glover. Like theirs, however, this is a constructed idyll, the site’s park-like ambience shaped during the 20th century to appeal to the tourist industry on which it depends.
I have chosen to include Bryant in the painting because his presence is felt at Port Arthur. Drawing on the conventions of photography as a form of documentary evidence and painting as belonging to the realm of the imagination, my depiction of Bryant is based on a well-known media photograph – as if to provide objective proof of his existence – while my painterly rendition of the landscape is imbued with imagined elements that convey the landscape’s dark past. It is an eerie landscape, possessed not by the visible but by the invisible, “haunted by the ghosts of human suffering and cruelty”.
*Autumn Laing, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2011, p. 184
Rodney People's picture 'Port Arthur' is a unanimous choice by the judges. We found it compelling because of its soft evocative lyricism. When you look closely at the history of Port Arthur, and its representation as a marker in Colonial history, you have this dream-like figure of Martin Bryant hovering in the landscape.
It is an extraordinarily brave painting for dealing with that subject of what happened in Port Arthur in 1996. It is also one of the first pieces of artwork that has really dealt very directly with what happened at that time. It often takes many years before one can start reflecting back on such a dramatic history. It a painting that is, at first, quite deceptive. As you walk toward it, you feel as if you are going to enter some romantic vision of Tasmania and then the flip side of it is actually uncovered as you get closer towards the work. One really needs to inspect this painting in detail to truly appreciate it. As you look into it, it starts to look out at you and raises some questions for you as the viewer.
Doug Hall AM