My work over the last thirty years has been a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape. I have lived and worked all over the continent from the mountains of Tasmania to the floodplains of Arnhem land.  I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world - leaf, feather and beetle wing - to the abstract dimensions of the earth's dynamic systems.  Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.

I like to think that the large works on paper on which I assemble these different drawing methods represent a kind of inventory or document about the state of the earth.  I want to reveal both the energy and beauty of it, as well as show its condition of critical even terminal change.  My interest is to paint the processes and energy field of the living systems of this land - flocks of birds, or water plants in swamps, or the movement of sand dunes or the ways in which trees regenerate after fire. 

I currently have an exhibition at Australian Galleries, Melbourne The Life of Inland Waters (1 - 20 May)

I have spent a lot of time in the last five years in the company of the great Yolngu artist Mulkun Wirrpanda painting the floodplains and flora of the Blue Mud Bay region of North East Arnhem Land.  In 2017, the results of this collaboration were exhibited at the National Museum of Australia as Midawarr Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley and formed the basis of a handsome book of the same name. 

The Life of Inland Waters exhibition is showing paintings, sculptures and prints which are an extension and a distillation of that time spent in Arnhem land.  The exhibition will also include several significant works by Mulkun Wirrpanda.  In these paintings, I am trying to show how a tropical river ecosystem can be painted as a kind of microcosm of our earth.  They both map the same dynamic systems of earth air and water as and enfold the lives of plants, insects and fish.

The exhibition also includes the series of prints entitled 101 insect life stories.  When Mulkun adopted me as her wawa or brother she gave methe name llangurrk, which is a kind of beetle grub or larvae which burrows into mud and the yams which grow there.  I feel that in some uncanny way this has led me to an obsession with making etchings, relief prints and frottages of the engravings made by beetle larvae as they tunnel under the bark of trees. Their tracks create extraordinary patterns which resemble aerial maps of road or river systems and form a tracery which is also a visual history of their life cycles.   

I have also made prints from the tunnelling and architecture of ship worms, ghost moths, termites and mason wasps.

The exhibition and book both called: Midawarr/Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley will be touring from late 2018-2019.  The exhibition was shown at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra (23 November - 18 December). The installation features a huge 10 metre scroll painting which includes some 40 of the hundreds of food plants which abound in North East Arnhem Land.   In the last eight years Mulkun Wirrpanda has painted around 130 barks and larrakitj about the same plants. These are now installed like a forest around the painting.  This unique series was made by her as a way to try and pass on her vast knowledge to future generations.   As she said – ‘This is the food we ate when I was young. Back then everywhere you looked there were old people. Strong and healthy – they lived with us for a long time. Nowadays people die when they are only young. There are very few people as old as I am. Children are given rubbish food to eat. It is killing us.'

Image title: DhuĊ‹guruk, Butjuwutju/Mona and Djitama - edible tubers of East Arnhem Land, 2015-2018 , woodcut from King Billy Pine with watercolour, 111 x 255cm Edition 10


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