up close and personal - artist insights from Kate Briscoe
In an interview from 2011, Kate sheds some light on her subject:
Nick Vickers* (NV): I would like to ask you about the evolution of your work. When you originally came from the UK to Australia, did you have any idea that the Australian landscape would have such an impact upon your work?
Kate Briscoe (KB): No, my first trips in Australia in 1969/70 took me across the Simpson Desert, then through the Glasshouse Mountains and Frazer Island. Originally, I came from around Lyme Regis in the south of England where I used to love the grey/white rocks embedded with fossils, and the limestone cliffs of the Wessex coast.
Remember when I made series of rubbings from the rocks in Depot Beach? They were my first deliberate search for rock formations. That was the amazing thing about that rock form, it was that line that was just so extraordinary and that’s why I called that body of work “Earth Lines”.
My first trip to Arnhem Land was in 2001 but these recent images are from the Kimberly – you can see this extraordinary red hot and black contrast of the rock and formations in Bells Gorge and now when I visit the
Kimberley or Arnhem Land, I love that hot red earth and the geological formations. But the really exciting moment was when I discovered the Kimberly Coast and then Geikie Gorge, through which the Fitzroy River flows. This is where I make endless studies of the white rock stained by the sedimentary ochre and iron ore stains that seep from above. This staining gets flooded and washed by an immense body of water where the flood line comes up to about 20 metres each year in the rainy season. The washing process changes the colours on the rockface and when I return to this same place the colours and surfaces change, so it becomes a constantly evolving inspiration.
NV: So do you see your paintings as abstracts or landscapes?
KB: They are really abstract paintings but they are sourced from my visual experiences. The drama of geological formations is informing the structures and the shapes so that the paintings transmit these ideas, I guess to give the ‘essence of a place’. If you are using simple forms, your drawing has to be very precise. It doesn’t look as though I do a lot of precise drawing but the way that the forms are arranged and the way that the lines and the stresses come through is absolutely crucial to the final compositions. Otherwise, you would not get that tension, nor would you get that sensation that there is going to be an imminent split in the rocks. So, the works are really referencing geology in all sorts of ways….
NV: Where do you draw the line with your own influences to avoid a pastiche of the works of artists that have been there before you? Do you reference the works of indigenous artists in your own work?
KB: Well, in a word, I don’t. I’m a painter trained in the European tradition who has been influenced by artists like Ben Nicholson, William Scott, and of course Sean Scully, all European. I started using these colours and forms before the imprint of the indigenous artists hit the art market. You have to remember that way before the market caught onto the Aboriginal bubble, it was the artists who were collecting those works because of their aesthetic rather than their commercial value. My interest in the works of Aboriginal artists, or for that matter, works of indigenous artists from Papua New Guinean never crept on to my canvases but they were wonderful objects to own and contemplate.
When I go to Arnhem Land or the Kimberly, I don’t see it as my country in that sense. It’s my country in the sense that I get incredibly excited by what I see around me; it’s a visual thing and not a culturally religious experience. If anything, I sense spirituality in the landforms and how they have been made as well as the changes that are apparent form nature.
*Nick Vickers is Co-ordinator of Alumni Relations at College of Fine Arts UNSW and for 25 years has maintained a career in gallery direction and collection management.
A note on Kate Briscoe’s source material – The Kimberley region, Western Australia
The Kimberley is Western Australia’s sparsely settled northern region. It is known for large swaths of wilderness defined by rugged mountains, dramatic gorges, outback desert and isolated coastal sections. The mostly unsealed (unpaved) Gibb River Road runs 660km through the heart of the Kimberley, leading to Windjana Gorge National Park, which has towering limestone cliff walls and pools where freshwater crocodiles gather.
Kate Briscoe has undertaken several field trips to this remote region (2005, 2006 and 2012), sketching, photographing various aspects of the gorges, and making rubbings of the rock surfaces. Briscoe has from her first trip, been fascinated with the momentous geological history inherent to these ranges, which were once part of a fossilized tropical reef that circled what is now the Kimberley area.
Briscoe’s photographic documentation of the area (see images below) show rock escarpments that rise precipitously from the placid river surface. The rock faces are often pale: the light gold of honey, the wan blue-grey of an autumn sky, or the spotted off-white of lightly soiled sand cloth; it is these colours, hewn from nature, which have dominated Briscoe’s palette for the past two decades.