Sanctuary | Residency on Flinders Island, Tasmania

Sanctuary , watercolor on layered paper, 15”x15.”

Sanctuary, watercolor on layered paper, 15”x15.”

The worldview that initiated my current series of work—watercolors in the “fractured” style integrating aerial and perspective views—is Sanctuary. Unlike the others it’s made of multiple pieces of paper, layered and glued onto a wood panel, and as the “archetype” I’m keeping it in my own collection for now. I created it (minus the gluing and mounting) at the end of a truly idyllic artist residency at Mountain Seas Art and Wilderness Retreat, on Flinders Island off the northeast coast of Tasmania, Australia, for the month of September 2017.

(In a nutshell, artist residencies provide artists of all types with opportunities to focus on their work in new surroundings, usually in the company of other artists and often with opportunities for presentations or exhibitions. They typically last anywhere from two weeks to six months, and while some come with an award or stipend, most work out similar to a very inexpensive hotel stay. This was the latter type, and I was the only resident with the exception of a photographer and his wife for about a week. The Retreat also caters to tourists, but it was still low season, so there were none at the time.)

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This was actually my second residency of that summer. The first was at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn, Iceland, inland from Reykjavik—I’ll have more to say about it in later posts—a great place to explore my passion for volcanic geology and soggy, windswept landscapes. The second was at the opposite pole: yes Iceland and Tasmania are nearly antipodal, but the environments also couldn’t have been much more different, Flinders Island being subtropical and ecologically complex with the ocean ever-present. Given the island’s ecological and botanical diversity, its small size of 30 by 60km (I won’t get into my small-islands obsession here—check out my statement for that!), and admittedly the cushy accommodations, in researching it I thought it sounded too good to be true. But, it wasn’t at all.

Tannin-dyed stream and forest behind the beach on Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia
Coastal scrub vegetation and rocky Mount Killiecrankie on Flinders Island, Tasmania
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Sun peeking through Dicksonia and Cyathea tree ferns in a lush rainforest gully in Strzelecki National Park on Flinders Island, Tasmania

Flinders Island has been largely cleared for cattle grazing, though with a population of less than 1000 it has significant pockets of native forest, wetlands, dunelands and scrublands remaining. The largest, most pristine, and most diverse of these is Strzelecki National Park in the southwest corner of the island, containing the island’s tallest peaks. Its elevation and varied topography have produced a stunning mix of ecosystems, from coastal scrub and dry forests to ferny rainforest gullies, cloud forests and rocky summits. The ruggedness of the landscape has kept it safe from deforestation and development, but the Park is and feels like a “sanctuary” in other ways too—some of its habitats are relicts from a period of wetter overall climate, and would be restricted to these mountains even if the entire island had been left untouched by modern humans. I probably don’t need to add that its refuge status is under threat from multiple directions—catastrophic fire (which has ravaged other parts of the island), invasive pests, and a warming/drying climate.

Guestrooms at Mountain Seas.

Guestrooms at Mountain Seas.

View into the National Park from my bedroom with usually cloud-obscured Strzelecki Peak (756m) in the center.

View into the National Park from my bedroom with usually cloud-obscured Strzelecki Peak (756m) in the center.

Walking trail through streamside forest at Mountain Seas.

Walking trail through streamside forest at Mountain Seas.

Pond, forest and ocean view at Mountain Seas.

Pond, forest and ocean view at Mountain Seas.

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Mountain Seas couldn’t be more perfectly situated—right up against the main, mountainous sector of the park and a few minutes’ walk to the much smaller coastal sector (the southern end of it called Trousers Point). Each day for a month I woke to views of the usually cloud-shrouded Strzelecki Peak (756m) and passed through fields of wallabies and wombats and patches of tea tree and tree fern forest on the walk between my room and the Art Centre. Though it was often wet and windy (it was still the tail end of winter), the weather worked with the vegetation to give the landscape a moodiness that I found moving, and there were just enough perfect days to avoid monotony and allow exploration of much of the island by foot, bike and rental car. That, plus the dreamy perfection of my surroundings, and the fact that it was a mostly solitary existence (I encountered fewer than five tourists, and the Retreat’s two staff people were usually elsewhere on the grounds) gave the whole experience a surreal, meditative aspect that rarely comes to me effortlessly, living as I usually do in my head….

Wombat and…

Wombat and…

…other deck-dwelling wildlife of Mountain Seas (with the sea in the distance).

…other deck-dwelling wildlife of Mountain Seas (with the sea in the distance).

One idea I had before arriving was to depict my impression(s) of the entire island by “compressing” its diversity into just one or several compositions—structuring and humanizing it as I’ve done with other islands, real and imaginary. But after doing some exploration I realized that the island didn’t feel compact or “cohesive” enough to provide a starting point for that sort of idealization: it lacked a unifying feature (like a singular mountain range), was too heavily altered, was mostly private inaccessible land, and despite my expectations simply felt too large to really comprehend. So I turned my attention to the National Park—much more manageable in size and in fact—ecologically and psychologically—just as much an “island” itself.

In the next post I’ll say more about the National Park and how my experience of this real-life natural sanctuary culminated in the worldview of that name. For now I’ll share two other works I began during that month (below), imagining the Park as its own literal island as I did for Sanctuary. Both are in a style, set aside for now in favor of the fractured worldviews, consisting of aerial views overlaid with layered laser-cut/etched plexiglass representing topography and waterways. Barnacle Island is much more generic, having been conceived before I studied and explored the Park in detail; Bat Island is much closer to the aerial component of Sanctuary, and depicts the colors of the rocks and vegetation as they appeared at sunset. Take a look at the mixed media gallery for larger images of both.

Stay tuned for more!

Darren

Barnacle Island , watercolor on paper with layered plexiglass, 15”x15”x1”.

Barnacle Island, watercolor on paper with layered plexiglass, 15”x15”x1”.

Bat Island , watercolor on paper with layered plexiglass, 15”x20”x1”. The plexiglass in the center is layered like a topographical model; on the left side it’s a single layer etched with waterways and topo lines.

Bat Island, watercolor on paper with layered plexiglass, 15”x20”x1”. The plexiglass in the center is layered like a topographical model; on the left side it’s a single layer etched with waterways and topo lines.

The National Park just before sunset, viewed across the lawn at Mountain Seas.

The National Park just before sunset, viewed across the lawn at Mountain Seas.

View of Mountain Seas (the most distant cleared area) and the coast from Strzelecki Peak. Trousers Point is hidden by the rock in the upper left.

View of Mountain Seas (the most distant cleared area) and the coast from Strzelecki Peak. Trousers Point is hidden by the rock in the upper left.

Strzelecki National Park, with Strzelecki Peak shrouded in cloud, viewed from the beach north of Trousers Point at low tide.

Strzelecki National Park, with Strzelecki Peak shrouded in cloud, viewed from the beach north of Trousers Point at low tide.