Over the past 15 years of creative practice, Bronwyn Rees has focused on making richly textured prints that express her particular vision of Australia’s landscape and wilderness areas. Evoking the inherent beauty of these natural spaces, Rees communicates a poignant environmental message conveyed in the title of her current exhibition, Protection. This show features a selection of key works created by Rees over the past five years as Artist in Residence at the Firestation Print Studio, a not-for-profit open access print studio, gallery and artist studio complex in Melbourne’s south-east.
Throughout Rees’ printmaking oeuvre, nature is represented as powerful, potent and unsettling. She writes, “For me, I feel most Australian when walking and camping in the bush, my humanity slipping away and becoming smaller and more fragile. Feeling the power, space and ferocity of our wilderness.” (Bronwyn Rees 2015)
Through her meandering lines and expressive mark-making skills, the artist taps into the wild, unseen energies bound up in the locations she chooses to represent. All landscape art is essentially a mediated view of nature, yet Rees tends to move beyond pure visual representation in order to convey something deeper, more experiential. This includes a sense of being physically and spiritually connected to the natural world.
Such notions can be detected in her etching Blue Wishing Tree. In this print the viewer is positioned at the foot of a vast tree, looking up as its branches reach skywards towards the starry magnificence above. This unusual perspective creates a feeling of being engaged in the scene, rather than distanced from it in the manner of picturesque landscape traditions. Together we marvel at the sprawling living entity above, and experience the sense of wonder that pervades Rees’ perception of nature.
As an Australian with European cultural heritage, Rees also ponders ideas surrounding identity within her work, as she states, “I am always trying to tell a story about Australian identity – as a third generation colonial import of undistinguished lineage, this is a slippery thing to try and grab…” (Bronwyn Rees, 2015)
Certain works contain an almost claustrophobic atmosphere, and one is reminded of how white settlers in Australia must have first encountered the alien Australian bush, so vastly different from the tamed, tilled and cultivated shores of England and Europe. Into the woods features a horizontal line of trees, their leafy tops truncated out of the picture plane, while violent scratched line work crisscross the scene. There is no path through the ghostly white forms of tree trunks, which from the low viewing perspective appear almost like bars of a prison. Whereas other works such as Nanango II are similarly dense, yet depict the organic forms of vegetation in vivid, celebratory fashion.
Consistent within these prints, and all the works in this exhibition is the artist’s investigation of the emotional, psychological and spiritual experience of the natural world, and a keen awareness of her place within it.
Images © Bronwyn Rees
Text © Marguerite Brown