Sarah Tomasetti is a Melbourne landscape artist and kindly agreed to write a piece for A Sense of Awe about her experiences. Sarah gained a professional qualification in fresco painting in Italy in 1995. Her work is held in a number of collections including Artbank, Macquarie Bank, National Australia Bank, BHP, Grafton Regional Gallery and in private collections in Australia and overseas. (Click on the images to enlarge them.)
Like many artists before me, I am compulsively drawn to the great wild romantic landscapes of history. I am intrigued by how we need this sense of something extraordinary that lies beyond ourselves, how we have sought this through encounters with the natural world, and how, in turn, landscape painting has historically charted our cultural relationship to nature.
I recently revisited Fiordland in New Zealand and walked the Milford Track. On the fifth day one emerges at Sandfly point to take a boat across Milford Sound, the site of Von Guerard’s famous late 19th Century painting of the same name. From roughly the same viewpoint I embarked on further studies of The Lion, an iconic rock that rises with stately certainty from the tannin tinged waters of the Sound.
Kayaking close to the base, one is struck by the vertiginous nature of the granite sides that continue uninterrupted below the waterline. There is nothing resembling a shore or even so much as a foothold in a rock face carved out by a glacier. In the presence of such scale I am reminded of Kate Rigby’s conclusion to her book Topographies of the Sacred, that ‘there is something we might carry forward from romanticism: the art of dwelling ecstatically amidst the elemental, the uninhabitable, and the incomprehensible.’ *
Painting The Lion felt, in some symbolic sense, like coming home, in the sense of engaging with the deep human wish for eternal, unchanging presence; for many found in faith, in nature, or the celestial realm of the sky. The Lion is in reality a dark form, covered in deep brown and green foliage. That this painting emerged a silvery blue suggests the domain of the spirit, perhaps an interior but not visceral place.
I think this reverie I find myself in has deep roots in the human psyche but there is something else intruding now – what is it? Awe has always sat close to a tremor of fear, but this is different, something more like dread. To speak of unchanging presence in nature would seem to be an unparalleled luxury in the 21st Century when the dire predictions of climate change add up to no less than the potential apocalypse of our time. How much more contemplation can we afford? What have we done?
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