by Kim Kelly
MEET THE AUTHOR IN MILLTHORPE
Our Millthorpe Pop-Up is a celebration of Australian storytelling, our books all gathering together in a little gold-rush era village with stories whispering from every wild colonial verandah post. So, Jo, how has your Australianness, or your experience of Australia, inspired or influenced your creative explorations?
My years of journeying into remote desert lands has enabled me to discover something of the extraordinary diversity of these places. Working closely for years with scientists across a wide range of disciplines, I have learnt of the growing environmental threats to arid lands and the intrinsic value, interconnectedness and essential necessity of the preservation of our desert environments and the challenges faced by their people, flora and fauna. I have been given special charter to paint the country of different Indigenous peoples, to visually describe many sacred sites, places of pilgrimage and ceremony, birth places, burial grounds, rock art galleries, homes and temples, entrusted with not only great privilege and responsibility but also enormous artistic opportunity. I share a special affinity, a collegiality with these desert peoples, through our intimate relationship to desert lands and our instinctive artistic compulsions. My artworks assimilate and translate various disciplines, cultures, philosophies and traditions, weaving knowledge and ideologies from the past to the present, from one continent to another and offering ‘fresh eyes’ on the cyclical nature of existence in these places.
If you were to create a story of Millthorpe through images, with its many layers of history – from the Wiradjuri wars to boutique stores – what might your sketches tell us?
Hopefully something of a personal, intimate experience. Art comes from a very selective eye, according to the sensibilities, interests and personality of the artist. I am interested in the very complex and powerful, reciprocal relationship of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have to place, how the land affects people and people affect the land. People have left their imprint on the landscape, just as the landscape has marked them. I believe my work has a particularly female perspective and contribution in describing the elusive primary sense that lies in the alliance to natural worlds.
Please tell us about the wonderful book you’ll be bringing to the Millthorpe Pop-Up.
Jo Bertini Fieldwork is a visually engaging contemporary art book that brings to life artist Jo Bertini’s long and intimate involvement with the Australian desert. Her pen and ink drawings, works in pencil, charcoal, as well as hundreds of small gouaches, are a vibrant visual diary of the changing landscape.
There is a yearning in Bertini’s drawings and gouaches, an ache to connect with what she sees, before it disappears. Rarely do we get so close to the experience of an artist at work.
With an introduction by Robyn Davidson, author of the best-selling book Tracks, Fieldwork is an authentic engagement with the desert lands and Bertini as a painter and explorer.
‘It is only possible to paint the desert with knowledge. You cannot just dip into the desert and hope to see it. Jo Bertini has been very fortunate in going into the desert repeatedly … There is an energy in her brush that corresponds with the emotional response to this landscape.’ – Andrew Sayers, director, National Portrait Gallery
What’s your favourite Australian story – be it a novel, a film, or legend? Or even a painting? And why do you love it?
I love Sidney Nolan’s narrative painting series of Burke and Wills and the inland explorers. Particularly the paintings of the camels around the salt lakes of central Australia and the lost explorer encountering an Indigenous man who is attempting to help him. These paintings actually move me to tears as they are so close to my own experiences but from a particularly male historical perspective, the great myth of male virility and flawed conquering of the continent.
Describe the view from your studio window today.
My studio is in an old woodshed on my property and the doors open onto a creek gully full of very old heritage apple and quince trees. There is a resident striped faced swamp wallaby who lives beneath the trees in the creek and spends time grazing around my woodshed, looking at me painting while I look out at him.
If you were to write the Great Australian Novel – or draw it! – where might you begin?
Out bush, probably in the heart of central Australia, in a very remote and inaccessible, sacred Aboriginal waterhole in the northern Simpson Desert.
That was exhausting, wasn’t it? Time for a cup of tea. Fortunately, Millthorpe has plenty of café options. Now, which Australian author or artist would you like to invite to your table?
Sidney Nolan, although that would be impossible, so otherwise the wonderful intrepid Australian writer and explorer Ernestine Hill…equally impossible as both are deceased.
Thanks for bringing your story love to Millthorpe, Jo.
Find out more about Jo Bertini here.