Ann Holt has been painting the landscape of Bruny Island, which lies off the south coast of Tasmania, for the past 13 years. She spends extended periods of time there and has based several solo exhibitions on this work. Working en plein air is an essential part of her process, "The presence of the sky, the feeling of being alone, capturing a particular time of day, or the winter light, as it's reflected from sky to sea to cloud. The grandeur and beauty - the immensity - how the liquid elements of air and water carry beyond any kind of frame."
The title of the show is borrowed from the novel Wanting, by Richard Flanagan, who also spends time working on Bruny Island. He describes a group of characters moving through the Tasmanian bush in the early days of settlement, "They had forced passageways through cold rainforests, lost themselves in cloudgardens of hanging mosses ribboning the sky, trekked along vast beaches stunned by angry oceans that rose and fell like liquid mountains, climbed ranges aching with desolation at the endlessness all around."
For Holt, who divides her time between Melbourne and Bruny, working on the island means not only a sensory immersion in the landscape, but an engagement with the history of occupation in Tasmania. This awareness of the island's untold stories informs her relationship to the tradition of landscape painting and impels her to work with an attitude of discovery and close observation rather than mastery. Several of the works in Cloud Garden are multi-panelled canvases, like sections of a panorama: there is always more to see and experience beyond the edge of the image, and the moment captured is just one of many moments in the ever changing flow of the place, which exists above and beyond our perception of it.
Mouth of the Derwent River opens out across three panels, the distinction between earth, water and sky gradually dissolving. While the first panel works as a kind of map tracing the flowing lines of the river's trajectory, the third carries an imprint of the psychological impact of standing before the immense, glowering mass of ocean and cloud that leads southwards towards Antarctica. Others, such as Towards Fluted Cape, Bruny Island, a finalist in the 2009 Glover Prize for landscape painting, have the sweeping aerial viewpoint of a plane or a bird
The concept of a garden refers not only to the way the low slung Bruny clouds appear to sit beneath the horizon line, entangled with the vegetation, but also carries a notion of care and responsibility towards the environment.
Fiona Trigg. 2009
Fiona Trigg is an assistant curator at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image.