I’ve made a new chalkboard which is a little more manoeuvrable than the last one on an old door. Today I made the first drawing on it and here it is. It depicts a scene inspired by my explorations in Wollemi National Park recently. Well, more than inspired by, it represents quite a specific spot. From Newness Campground, the main Pipeline Track led off downstream along the Wolgen River. I followed an unsigned side track, that led off through the ruins of what must have been the fancier houses attached to the old oil refining works. Now only sandstone chimneys remain, like strange trunks amongst the forest. The track dwindles, as it traces up a creek line which becomes increasingly densely forested, with high cliffs looming overhead on both sides. In parts the track becomes difficult to follow, but after tracing it up and down several times in the days I was there, I can confidently follow it to it’s end, which is the place depicted here. A truly magical spot, especially the first time you see it. The deep narrow gorge, filled with high forest, is rather dark, cool and calm, oblivious to the sun filled and windy weather above. Here the cliff on one side is particularly shear – glowing orange up above in the afternoon sun, but with a deep recess at the base. Carved over the ages, by the smallest of ephemeral watercourses, is a great tube-like, vertical chute. It carried no water on the day I was there, not even a dripping, but instead it shone a column of soft reflected light onto the circular, sand-filled depression at its base. In the gloom of the forest it was like an enchanted stage, lit at just this time of day, waiting for the arrival of some cosmic actor.
I have photographs, though none look anything like this drawing. It was one of those places that was too large, yet at the same time close and intimate, to capture in one frame. This chalkboard drawing is instead based on a pen drawing from my notebook, made on that first days visit. Even in my sketch, there was a figure at the base of the chute, although I was there alone. I’m not entirely sure why I inserted the figure, perhaps to help with scale, but when it came to doing the chalk drawing, I certainly wanted to retain it, something to make the image more lively, and excentuate that point of focus at the base of the chute. The figure I had drawn was a rather generic standing silhouette, and really not sufficient, so I started browsing books for another pose. I soon settled on the works of William Blake as a good point of departure. When I saw “Albion Worshiping Christ” I knew I had the right one.
Albion Worshiping Christ is one of the plates from Blake’s epic work Jerusalem , a book of 100 etched and hand coloured plates that took 16 years to produce. My drawing has omitted Christ, to be replaced by the wonders of nature, so it seemed a rather fitting choice. Of course my chalkboard drawing is only meant to be a temporary sketch, and the landscape elements did come fairly easily. The figure, however, was a labour. I re-did it many times, and also extra sketches on black paper. The more I worked on it, the less it looked like one of Blake’s cosmic men, and the more it looked like a distorted half man/half frog, perhaps by Francis Bacon! (I love the work of Francis Bacon by the way, but it really wasn’t what I was trying to achieve in this instance. I hope I get the chance to see the show on at Art Gallery of NSW) Eventually I stopped trying to force the figure into the particular scale and position where I though it should be, and instead let it and my hand have their way, and Albion came out twice as big, as he kept wanting to, over and over. He still took quite a bit of fiddling – perhaps I was trying to achieve too much with a piece of chalk and an eraser.