Stripped. Bare., 2004
By Julia Jones
For Kim Goldsmith, the personal is definitely political. When choking summer dust storms swamped her farm in central western NSW, she was catalysed to express a visual response to the fragility and mismanagement of Australian agricultural land. Traditional farming practices eke away the ecological vitality of this land, while drought drains it further. Meanwhile farmers are locked in fierce battles with government bureaucracy. Goldsmith voices both her disillusionment with traditional farming practices and her scepticism of bureaucratic processes. She is conscious that her position, informed by the experience of working in both farming and natural resource sectors, is controversial, yet feels that it needs urgent scrutiny.
Tactile and textured substances are manipulated with vigour in her provocative and contemplative paintings and sculptures. Barbed wire fuses with canvas and paper, while impasto melds with ochre, sand and paint. The smooth surfaces of local rocks are deployed as visceral templates for textual scrawl. Word-image interplay permeates widely in Goldsmith’s work, reflecting her strong affiliation with such cultural alchemists as New Zealand’s Colin McCahon. And hovering over many works is the oblique presence of Sidney Nolan’s desolate, arid Central Australian landscapes. Goldsmith employs a variety of strategies to deliver her message. She uses a razor-sharp polemic in some pieces, and in others charts her aesthetic interpretations of land degradation in an intuitive, documentary fashion. Many works explore the land’s emotional and spiritual qualities.
Goldsmith’s depiction of the land veers between ‘anti-pastoral’ critique and a wistful ‘post-pastoral’ homage. The ‘pastoral’ convention (distinct from pastoral production, although etymologically linked) celebrates human relationships with the land. It idealises the ‘natural’ and presents it as something separate to human culture. Anti-pastoral exposes the deluded aspects of pastoral, illuminating harsher environmental and social conditions. Goldsmith’s Natural Resources is an example of anti-pastoral. Its deep amber surface, suggestive of the local red earth, is scarred with unequivocal statements of vitriol and passion regarding land management debates. It is one of the most overtly political statements in the show, along with Feathered Nest: the barbed-wire nest lined with ‘blood’-spattered bureaucratic papers.
The post-pastoral, a concept developed by British ecological cultural critic Terry Gifford, attempts to mediate between the pastoral and the anti-pastoral. It incorporates an element of anti-pastoral critique within celebrations of the land, infusing them with ecological consciousness. Goldsmith’s post-pastoral works, such as Stripped and Bare, experiment with surface texture to evoke the haunting, compelling rural environment of her childhood. They imply her close affiliation with this land, while conveying its ecological shifts: through the depicted forms of dead box trees, ring-barked to produce grazing land. This close response to the ecology of rural Australia and its earthy aesthetic, calls to mind Mandy Martin’s large Watersheds landscapes. Goldsmith’s frequent tendency to fuse written text with visual portrayals of the land also resonates with Martin’s approach.
Goldsmith’s Galah Country leads the viewer into a gentle spiritual territory: conveying the moody, ethereal qualities of a rocky rural landscape. It elucidates the artist’s motivation for her polemic critiques in other works. In tune with a rich eco-political artistic tradition, extending from Arthur Boyd to John Wolseley, Goldsmith explores the intricate beauty of this particular environment, while elsewhere producing strident statements against environmental destruction. In the soft streaks and scumbles of Galah Country’s rolling lavender boulders, Goldsmith conveys the deep emotional attachment to the land that underpins her defence of it.
Kim Goldsmith invites our response to land management debates, and to a land value that takes its cue from the earth itself.
© 2004, Julia Jones