The landscape as poetry
Posted: 21 Jun 2011 | By: Jane Somerville
An unbounded conception of nature is fundamental to the work of G.W. Bot. Her work reflects a poetic vision of the landscape that can burst to life, restore itself and is also terrifying in its limitless potential. The Australian landscape is Bot’s primary subject matter. She works across printmaking and relief sculpture, and in both mediums we see a lyrical form that appears to dance across the paper or the wall. These abstracted forms are what Bot calls glyphs – a unique style of language she has developed in order to interpret the essence of the vast Australian landscape.
Bot’s glyphs are a pictorial alphabet of shapes and forms. They might represent specific things like the knarred and scraggly form of a dead yellow box tree. These glyphs are not only limited to plants, but also invoke animals and people. They are not just visual descriptions and symbols of objects but describe the spaces between objects — for instance a gum leaf and the movement between it and the other leaves on the branch and the way all those leaves move with the wind. They conjure up a less straightforward representation of an experience in the landscape. The interpretation of the glyphs is open, she says “people can interpret it how they see it. There are lots of associations.”
Bot was born in Pakistan and her childhood was divided between Australia and Europe. She has been living and working as an artist in Australia since the early 1980s and the landscape has been a consistent theme in her work. G.W. Bot is a professional name she uses to exhibit and was apparently a name she took from a French document citing the first reference to wombats as ‘le grand Wam Bot’. Bot sees the wombat as her totem animal, and the adoption of a totem is in reverence to Bot’s deep respect for the Aboriginal people of Australia and their long history in this country.
Another element borrowed from her “Aboriginal brothers and sisters” is the concept of songlines — a method of mapping the landscape used by the Aboriginal ancestors during the Dreaming. The landscape comes into being through singing the names of everything within it — plants, animals, rocks, birds, waterholes and so on — literally singing them into existence. They are invisible paths through the country which don’t just describe the landscape, but embody its spirit. This is something Bot attempts to achieve through her work with the glyphs. They are a series of marks that don’t literally define or describe the landscape but symbolise an idea, and indicate something seen, heard or felt. In this way Bot’s glyphs “capture the essence of what we are”. They are a language and they connote a metaphysical understanding of the landscape.
Bot’s conception of the landscape is intimately linked to a personalised experience of it. Others may see its variety and expanse as impenetrable, whereas Bot suggests we can all have intimate experiences of the landscape — often it just requires time to look. She sees the changes occurring in the landscape as deeply interrelated to stages we move through in life. Near to where she lives in West Canberra, there are stands of trees she describes as being like “sentient beings”. They were growing there long before she lived in the area and over thirty years she has watched them grow, age and scatter, saying “even when they die and they are in their skeletal state they are exquisitely beautiful forms”. As Bot points out, these reminders of death in nature also remind us of our own mortality.
What Bot aims to do is to bring a freshness to our understanding of nature and the environment, describing the nuance of shadows moving across mundane objects at different seasons through the year, year in and year out. The subtlety is what makes you look twice, and this is how she sees her role as an artist. Indeed, Bot describes the way a young child who has just discovered the moon in the night sky will announce it with amazement. Bot laughs, “For goodness sake of course I have seen the moon” but the wonder and discovery on the child’s face, that is what the role of the artist should be about — showing something as if for the first time.
G.W. Bot is represented by Beaver Galleries, Canberra; Australian Galleries, Sydney and Melbourne; and Gadfly Gallery, Perth.
She will be exhibiting at Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, 4 June–17 July 2011.
Images from top:
G.W. Bot, Earth, glyphs and sun, 2010, linocut on Korean Hanji paper, 94 x 64cm.
G.W. Bot, Muses, watercolour and graphite on Colombe paper, 110 x 120cm. Courtesy Beaver Galleries.
G.W. Bot, Family portrait II (Detail), 2010, graphite and watercolour on Colombe paper, 110 x 30cm.
G.W. Bot, Glyphs - Earth, 2008, linocut on Rives BFK paper, 94 x 64cm. Courtesy Beaver Galleries.
G.W. Bot, Crucifixion, 5-piece bronze relief sculpture, 185 x 8cm. Courtesy Beaver Galleries.