Some thoughts re
Birds Returning: New Images of North Tasmania
Paintings by Richard Dunlop
I enjoy watching waterbirds land gracefully or awkwardly on various passages of water, and see
them levitate and challenge each other to perilous aeronautical feats often through boulders or on
moving water – Port Sorell and Narwantapu, the Rubicon River, Great Lake, stretches of the Tamar
and the South Esk, Dove Lake, and the Meander River running through Deloraine. Piguenit animated
the landscape with clouds, Williams with fallen foliage on Flinders Island, and I’ve tried to do the
same with birds, whose wings can appear to literally ‘sail’ with no weight through light. I listen to
classical music while I paint, benefiting from the pulse of the musician’s compositions, and the birds
have tended to resemble musical notations and scores, as they are used to play with formal
elements of depth of field and shifting perspective.
The connotations of migration, or returning populations, political hawks Vs doves, and the like, are
for other people to draw conclusions. Some birds raid the Sassafras grainfields with the intelligence
of classic Roman Army formations. The colours and markings of ploughed regions like Sassafras can
change week by week.
Never far away from grainfields, in North Tasmania, mirages are conjured from layered mountains,
icy tracks, reflections of clouds, rising mist from lakes, with quick-shifting elusive weather patterns.
The mountains can be coy about raising their skirts of mist. Like paintings, the landscapes of North
Tasmania can suddenly look their best at a certain time of day, revealed in the right light, and can
have a strong emotive effect, like being transported by music, or immersed in the narrative of a film
noir work. Films like Van Diemen’s Land and The Nightingale reek of the gothic underbelly of North
Tasmania, full of stunningly beautiful fern gullies and the like where much blood was spilled.
Grand weeping cherries line the Meander River in Deloraine, donated by Japan Flour Mills. It is a
tree with a profound history in Japanese culture. Their manicured scaffolding of branches offers an
architecture to hang paint on (as Fairweather might have with a figure), allowing for an ambiguous
depth of field and shifting light. In Japan, cherry blossoms are commonly conceived as the equivalent
of clouds, because of their propensity to bloom en masse, and are a persistent metaphor for the
ephemeral nature of life, the transience of all things, and a celebration of exquisite beauty. Because
of its association with mortality and graceful acceptance of destiny, during World War II, the cherry
blossom was used to galvanise national pride with falling cherry petals representing sacrificed lives.