This film was produced to coincide with the exhibition, Unnatural History : The Tower Hill Project, in association with Warrnambool Art Gallery.
Unnatural History : The Tower Hill Project commemorates 160 years since Eugene von Guerard painted Tower Hill (1855), held in Warrnambool Art Gallery’s permanent collection. The exhibition highlights the environmental impacts colonial settlement has had on this landscape since von Guerard’s time.
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27th June - 29 August 2015
Disassemble | Reassemble highlights the relationship between humans and nature, particularly the impact that human beings and changing climates have on the planet. The curatorial drive for the exhibition arose from memories of the early 1990’s environmental superhero, Captain Planet. The artists presented in this exhibition represent a sort of contemporary ‘planeteer’. With their powers combined Jane Burton, Svenja Kratz, Peter Madden, Nicola Moss, Polixeni Papapetrou, Hobie Porter, Tony Rice, Kate Shaw and Katarina Vesterberg explore the natural and human degradation and rejuvenation of the environment.
29th November - 20th December 2014
Much of Hobie Porter’s introspection is afforded by living in a subtropical rainforest in North Eastern New South Wales. He has an affinity with the natural world and feels its abuse – and its beauty – keenly. This relationship with the environment is conveyed through Porter’s sensitive rendering of landscapes, seascapes and cloudscapes. His painterly work, ‘gentle and quiet depictions of disturbed arcadias’, places the European tradition of the sublime within a contemporary Australian environmental context. 1
This exhibition, Nature’s Redesign, explores Porter’s ongoing exploration of the interdependence and interplay between people and the natural world: both the human imprint on the environment and nature’s reconfiguration in response. While it is possible to admire his works purely for their aesthetic and technical merit, below the surface are complex layers of semiotics, of environmental history, of art history, of an acutely astute mind. In addition to discourse about the impact of settlement on the land, there are a number of recurring motifs and themes that permeate Porter’s work - loss, devastation and regeneration; balance and harmony; the antithetical concepts of the fragility and robustness of the environment; and clouds, which 'imply the intransigent and impalpable.’2 His paintings are thus reminiscent of the evocative cloudscapes by Joseph Turner or John Constable which are frequently luminous, sometimes ominous.
Another striking feature of Porter’s works is trompe l’oeil, a technique used to great effect historically by the Pompeians and much later by Baroque artists. This illusion of three-dimensionality emphasizes a visually impactful metaphor. In Threshold, 2012 and Generator, 2012 the trompe l’oeil ropes hover surreally – yet harmoniously – above the shoreline. As with the flotsam ropes, the artist frequently incorporates found objects into his works as part of his curiosity about how they are ‘reclaimed by the natural order’.3 Porter sees the ‘sublime in the minuscule’ and the extremes of the vastness and microcosms associated with the sublime continue to inspire his work.4 He has utilised the rope torus (simplistically speaking a doughnut-shaped object created by a revolving circle) to reflect the ocean currents and the looping of the ropes also evokes a sense of continuity.
Porter also painted a suite of works addressing the potency of bushfires, disclosing “I visited Bald Rock’s summit last summer in intense heat after a...bushfire had recently scoured it. The hard afternoon sunlight backlit the clouds, which in turn cast a deep shadow over country...It reminded me that mortality & [sic] letting go are unavoidable, universal conditions of life.”5 Bald Rock, situated in the eponymous National Park in northern New South Wales, is Australia’s largest granite monolith.
In Combustion Park, 2014 one can see the tension between the fragility and strength of the environment. The leaf suspended in the air like a beacon was based on a number of leaves the artist collected from the site and which he burnt in the studio to replicate the extant fire-ravaged leaves in situ, as they were too delicate to transport.
In the tradition of the detailed and accurate landscape painting of colonial artist, Eugene von Guerard, Porter also allocates equal importance to all elements and objects. He recently revisited the Tower Hill landscape that von Guerard painted in 1855. Tower Hill, near Warrnambool in South- Western Victoria, was the State’s first national park. The site was subjected to environmental devastation by European settlers from the 1840s onwards. In the early 1960s, however, Tower Hill was treated as ‘a working exhibit on how a natural area can be reclaimed’ and it has since been replanted and an ecosystem re-established.6 Bleeding Manna Pattern, Tower Hill, 2014 features a painting of red manna gum leaves covering a Tower Hill landscape, in proximity to the site von Guerard painted. This work relates to one of the replanting mistakes made at Tower Hill in the 1960s, when seedlings from Gippsland manna gums were planted, rather than ones indigenous to this area. Consequently, some of these trees died and others still failed to take root. They also introduced koalas, nicknamed ‘tree rabbits’ by a ranger, which multiplied in number and have been damaging the manna gums, leading to at least two thirds of the gum trees dying by the mid 1990s.
According to historian Tim Bonyhady, “When von Guerard beganpainting in Melbourne, he was applauded for his ‘microscopism’. It was a commonplace that his landscapes could also serve as botanical or geological studies. Every tree, every flower was said to be identifiable.”7 This microscopism is readily applicable to Porter’s work and his realistic depiction of the landscape, with environmental commentary overlaid.
Dr Shireen Huda
1 Hobie Porter, “Process: Hobie Porter”, Artist Profile, 25 August 2014,
http://www.artistprofile.com.au/process-hobie-porter/, last accessed 30 September 2014
2 Hobie Porter, Burnshine, exhibition catalogue, Arthouse Gallery, 26 March-12 April 2014
3 Hobie Porter, Full Circle, vimeo, 2012, http://vimeo.com/29126590
5 Porter, Burnshine, op. cit.
6 Quoted in Tim Bonyhady, The Colonial Earth, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne 2000, p. 355
7 ibid, p. 357
"Landscapes, and more broadly the many different environments which surround us, in contemporary Australian art are not taken as something non-problematic, a scene to be observed and faithfully recorded, but frequently it is something which we are part of and with which we actively engage. Artists in this selection include some of Australia’s most admired painters, including Michael Johnson, Robert Juniper and Yvonne Audette, the very distinguished ceramic artist, Pippin Drysdale, as well as the younger painters Hobie Porter and John Waller and the sculptor Shona Wilson."
Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA
There are some places in the world that one feels called to. I believe they hold within them a quiet language. With time, that language becomes audible - you can feel the country. It holds lessons too, both about itself & for the listener. Bald Rock National Park has that kind of pull for me. This collection of paintings seeks to transcribe my understanding of this
I visited Bald Rock’s summit last summer in intense heat after a recent bushfire had recently scoured it. The hard afternoon sunlight backlit the clouds, which in turn cast a deep shadow over country. The feeling of loss was concerning, yet things seemed like they were in balance, as if fire is a necessary ingredient once in a while. In perspective, a ravaged place is far better than total devastation. It reminded me that mortality & letting go are unavoidable, universal conditions of life. I didn’t know it then, but this intuition would guide my paintings into being.
I also wanted to counter quotidian depictions of the 'hard & tough' Australian landscape with the fragility of Bald Rock’s environment. I collected leaves from the site, intensifying their vulnerability by converting them into states of ash before painting them in the manner of trompe l’oeil. This repeated act across the collection reinforces a broader theme of environmental catharsis & transformation which underpins most of my work. Clouds fill the majority of the paintings’ surfaces. Clouds are an important recurring motif for me; they imply the intransigent and impalpable.