In September of 2008 Luke Sciberras travelled to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, on an art making expedition that was to irrevocably alter the way he engages with the landscape. Moving through this rugged terrain with a group of artists Sciberras was captivated by its explosive energy, and the new creative challenges this presented. In March 2009 he ventured into the West MacDonnell Ranges to continue this investigation into the unfathomably vast and unyielding subject provided by Australia’s arid interior.
The desert’s shifting atmospheric conditions can have a profound effect on the way the landscape is perceived on an immediate visual level. Fierce heat creates shimmering forms, diffusing the horizon and playing illusionary tricks with its delineation. Dust storms arise quickly and submerge everything in a gritty ochre blanket. The desert’s immensity and power challenged Sciberras to absorb it with all the senses, and translate this experience onto a two dimensional surface through colour, line and tone. A feat achieved in the richly gestural paintings and drawings that comprise Under a high desert wind.
When viewing this body of work one gets the sense that Sciberras is feeling his way through memory and experience via the process of painting. His vigorous mark-making belies this active search, finding a language to speak of the terrain’s spectacular visual qualities, along with those which act upon different, less rational parts of the psyche. In each painting Sciberras charts changeable tonal relationships between expanses of earth and sky. While with twisting strokes he gouges out valleys, gorges, rocks and shrubs as if they are all connected by some wild, unseen force.
This exhibition also sees a series of interior scenes featuring an imaginary country kitchen with a dead goose sprawled on the table. While referencing the long tradition of still-life painting, this subject takes on particular significance in today’s contemporary context. As so much of society is entirely divorced from the origins of the food we eat, these works form a poignant reflection on the earthly realities of life and death. While paying homage to the dead fowl, in a broader sense paintings such as Ravel’s Mother Goose are concerned with relaying respect for the land and its animal inhabitants (even those sacrificed for a good Cassoulet). The bleached landscape glimpsed through an open door reminds us of the artist’s Hill End roots.
Regardless of subject, Sciberras enters the act of painting with complete commitment – a fact evidenced thoughout this exhibition. Trawling through local topography he seeks out rhythms, excavates subterranean events, and links them through unremitting marks until all of their secrets spill out onto the picture plane. This penetrating vision sets these vital works apart.
All Images © Luke Sciberras, who is represented by Olsen Irwin, Sydney.