Ann Holt: Still waters
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun ...
... with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours
John Keats (1795-1821), To
To Autumn was supposedly composed whilst walking
through the water meadows behind Winchester Cathedral, close to the
South Downs, a convoluted system of narrow waterways and enclosed,
verdant landscape where the sound of running water is one of the
visitor's only guides to orientation. As William Fitzgerald
suggests, in this famous poem 'Keats surrounds himself with the
mists that dissolve contours and edges like the extended
fruitfulness of Autumn itself.'
In part an acknowledgement of mortality, Keats evokes a still
moment, both transition and fullness, redolent of that luxurious
satiety associated with languor, sleep and ultimately death.
Ann Holt's landscapes are similarly suffused. The title of this
exhibition, A Bend in the River, was deliberately
chosen to convey both the fluid passing of time and the unknown. We
cannot see around the corner of a meandering river, do not know
what the future has in store, but continue into that pregnant void
with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, comparable to Keats'
sensation of melancholic abundance.
This 'blind' river-passage through the landscape is
counterbalanced in Holt's work by aerial views of mountains, rivers
and bush, inspired by a low-altitude flight in a light aircraft
from Melbourne to Canberra. While presented as an open perspective,
this terrain was still comparatively 'unknown' to Holt, who is more
familiar with the Tasmanian environment in which she has spent many
years of her professional career. There is an eerie quality of
immense silence in these works. The still waters below appear both
weighty and translucent; while the vast spaces depicted between
clouds and mountains become 'full' with light, a curious massing of
luminosity. Similarly to the water-level viewpoint of other works,
Holt portrays a seemingly boundless landscape that is both open and
closed, solid and transparent, coherent but mysterious.
Holt is comfortable with this, refusing to describe the
sensation as one of awe: 'it is creepy, dangerous and scary to be
in the bush totally on your own - but also absolutely
liberating.' These works draw
upon childhood memories of holidays in the bush around Lake
Victoria, the Darling and Murray Rivers, as well as recent
experiences as a resident at the Bundanon Artists Centre founded by
Arthur Boyd on the Shoalhaven River.
The artist acknowledges that the triggering of instincts such as
fear that accompanies being immersed in nature is part of the
particular notion of beauty she attempts to investigate in her
work. As Edmund Burke describes: '...whatever is in any sort
terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a
manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime'.
Ann Holt's work is rich in understanding as well as association.
Direct influences include the Tasmanian landscape artist W.C.
Piguenit as well as referencing other European and Australian
painters. We are as aware of the history of painting as of the
physicality of the landscape in Holt's work. The complex alignment
of temporal, spatial and political aspects of landscape painting
has been an acute concern throughout the Australian
tradition, with which Holt strongly identifies and actively
This investigation of the location of memory is perhaps the core
of her practice, as recollection, meaning and sensation enter a
dynamic interplay, where imagination interacts with observation and
Rather like the formation of storm clouds under the influence of
opposing pressure changes and the condensation of moist air, Holt's
paintings give shape to the tumultuous forces of landscapes - those
that surround us, as well as those of our collective memories and
histories.A sensitivity to the history of a chosen landscape will
effect and inform the response.
Or, like the twilight beloved of the Romantics as a luminal,
transitional state where orthodoxies dissolve and day becomes
night, Holt's work arrests us in that space of fascination where
the unfolding drama around us causes us in turn to be still.
Fine Art Honours Course
 William Fitzgerald, 'Articulating
the Unarticulated: Form, Death and Other in Keats and Rilke'
MLN, Vol. 100, No. 5, Comparative Literature. (Dec.,
1985), p. 951.
 Artist in conversation with the
 See: Edmund Burke, Sect. VII. 'Of
the Sublime' in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our
Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. 2nd edition (1759).