Ann Holt

Catalogue Essay

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 Autumn (1819)

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.'[1] 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.'[2] 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'.[3]

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 engages.

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 comprehension.

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.


Kit Wise

Fine Art Honours Course Coordinator
Monash University
Melbourne Australia


[1] William Fitzgerald, 'Articulating the Unarticulated: Form, Death and Other in Keats and Rilke' MLN, Vol. 100, No. 5, Comparative Literature. (Dec., 1985), p. 951.

[2] Artist in conversation with the author

[3] 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).