02 November 2023

Fire Exit


Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 18 October 2023, oil on canvas board, 30 X 25 cm

These are from two weeks ago when there was a fire that began on the outskirts of Byron Bay and made its way all the way up to Brunswick Heads, where I paint, I guess about 15 kms or so. Unfortunately, a wild Southerly was blowing which accentuated the situation. For a week it steadily crept along the beach but then, like a clever dragon, it dove into the peat below the surface, and so for now it's burning underground. Not peep out of it for  a week now, no smoke, no nothing. I didn't know there were peat bogs here, but I suppose they are pretty much everything where there have been forests. Duh.

In any event, I mostly avoid painting when there are fires around because, though it looks beautiful when the sun lights it up, it quickly goes a sepia brown and mucks up everything once the sun sets. It's what some of us call 'local colour', and it can ruin all the natural colours in the sky. So, consequently I avoid it when smoke drifts overhead from anywhere. But it's fire season and it's quite dry already, but hey! It's better than an earthquake cracking open the beach or a ground invasion.

In the top one that was painted first, the smoke still looked kind of sexy pink so I just made a quick study of it to compress these wide colourful stripes like I was a dressmaker working on a pattern. I like it. It's the sort of picture I dream about all the time, a synthesis of this twilight sky. And like the seamstress, I adore the texture that it evokes. As all painters (if they are self-reflective) my pictorial obsessions are always being freed from the bonds of my mysterious childhood. The key is to become aware of them, then exploit them completely. Mine are centred around a sort of graphic sensuality, among a few others. But if one looks at any painter's oeuvre, this is discernible to all clever amateur sleuths of art because the creative fingerprints of our DNA are readily visible. 

The second picture was painted after the smoke switched direction and infected the rest of the sky and sea and all around me. Helicopters were scooping sea water using drums that resembled tiny thimbles hanging by wire perilously below them. For several hours there was a continuous buzzing back and forth in front of me like they were yellow jackets collecting mud on a hot summer day. I painted somewhat blissfully oblivious to the circus around me because there was nothing I could do about any of it.

And tourists too! They all came out with their phones to take selfies, sometimes of me in the background, go figure. I am such an odd relic out there braving the wind, the fires, and whatnot. Painting out there alone on a dune, people passing by hardly know what to think of me even on normal days. 

But this second study opens my imagination now to reveal the stale smokey and diaphanous atmosphere of the night, like in a boudoir of a 1950's film. Perhaps in this sleazy Hollywood hotel, a sulky blonde in a silky negligee stands by an open window, bored, and looking out at nothing.

And in this picture I got a little lost but gradually felt my way around the smokey haze until I found the fire exit, then finished it.  Whew.....

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