How to Translate Travel into Art / by Jeannine Cook

I was lucky enough to spend nearly three weeks in Western Australia, my first visit there, and my first opportunity to meet many distant relatives for the first time. It was an amazing, fascinating experience, so packed with new experiences and new sights, that I am still dizzy from it all.

Not only were the landscapes vast, grandiose and utterly different from any others I have ever seen, but all the vegetation was so utterly new to me as well, of course, as the animals.  Because of the unique soil conditions and climates in Western Australia, there has been an incredibly radical adaptation of flora to survive in the harsh, often very impoverished environments, many falling into the category of biodiversity hotspots. The elegance and variation of plant life, even within the same species, left me astonished and humbled at my ignorance... whilst feeling very frustrated that there was no time even to draw anything.  No wonder Australia boasts such wonderful botanical artists. 

Two such artists were Philippa Nikulinsky, whose work I saw in Perth in Nedlands, and  Patricia Negus, living in Margaret River. I spent a wonderful time with Patricia at her flower-filled home and studio, when my family took us to visit her. So many books illustrated, so much creative energy - wonderful.

 Eucalyptus youngiana, Philippa  Nikulinsky (image courtesy of the artist)

Eucalyptus youngiana, Philippa  Nikulinsky (image courtesy of the artist)

 The Chapel of Flowers at Swallow's Welcome Art Studio, a chapel built with mud bricks by Patricia Negus and her husband, Tim, where she displays the original watercolours illustrating the book,  Wildflowers of Western Australia. ( Image courtesy of Cape to Cape Publishing).

The Chapel of Flowers at Swallow's Welcome Art Studio, a chapel built with mud bricks by Patricia Negus and her husband, Tim, where she displays the original watercolours illustrating the book, Wildflowers of Western Australia. (Image courtesy of Cape to Cape Publishing).

I was dazzled and delighted by the sweeps of white beach, turquoise and sapphire seas, mighty forests of giant eucalyptus trees of different types with their luminous multi-coloured bark and trunks soaring straight up to meet the feathered, dappled sunlight far above, and the vast space of reddish lands punctuated by grey-green low, strange vegetation.  Brilliance of flowers, flashing jewels of birds darting past in amazingly luminous colours, space and a feel of such an ancient land. It was all so intense, so beautiful.

 Beach south of Margaret River's entrance to the Indian Ocean, Western Australia (photograph J. Cook)

Beach south of Margaret River's entrance to the Indian Ocean, Western Australia (photograph J. Cook)

 Karri trees (Eucalyptus diversicolor) in the Boranup Forest, near Margaret River, Western Australia,  (photograph J. Cook)

Karri trees (Eucalyptus diversicolor) in the Boranup Forest, near Margaret River, Western Australia,  (photograph J. Cook)

 Middleton Beach, Albany, at sunset, Western Australia, (photography J. Cook)

Middleton Beach, Albany, at sunset, Western Australia, (photography J. Cook)

 Red flowering gum, (Corymbia ficifolia)

Red flowering gum, (Corymbia ficifolia)

 Fitzgerald River National Park, beach facing the Southern Ocean, Western Australia (photograph J. Cook)

Fitzgerald River National Park, beach facing the Southern Ocean, Western Australia (photograph J. Cook)

 Royal Hackia in Fitzgerald River National Park area, (photograph J. Cook)

Royal Hackia in Fitzgerald River National Park area, (photograph J. Cook)

 

Once back home, I can still scarcely come to grips with how to translate these experiences into art.  The sheer size of Western Australia, its astonishing diversity and grandeur and its strangeness to a newcomer all make it a daunting proposition to react artistically.  One would need to spend a lot of time there to be able to understand and thus create art from what one experiences there.

My only solution, knowing that I would end up in a squiggle of frustration, was to try and collect things that I could take home with me, from which I could try and work, evoking somehow some of the unforgettably vivid and wonderful experiences I had in Western Australia.  This was my first attempt at evoking the sapphire sea and the complexity of that world.

 Evocations I, silverpoint and 24 carat gold foil, J. Cook artist

Evocations I, silverpoint and 24 carat gold foil, J. Cook artist