Xmas 2019 was spent with my youngest son Max in Sydney. It was the best Xmas I’d had in a long time. Not one for all the commercialism and tinsel waste that accompanies the tradition, we booked a counter lunch at the local deli. We dined on Oysters, fresh leg ham, and roast Porchetta with crackling on a bed of Cauliflower puree. We exchanged cards with words of gratitude from and to each other, in acknowledgement of what had happend personally that year. His father had passed away.
At this time, a large portion of Australia was on fire. South Eastern Australia was quite literally hell on earth; as unprecedented weather conditions on the driest continent on earth finally responded with the largest climate change catastrophe the world had ever seen. And watch they did, in horror, as hundreds of fires ravaged the countryside and burnt the drought stricken tinder dry landscape to a crisp.
The generosity from people all over the world was equal to their horror, as movie stars donated stunning amounts of money for the recovery mission. Nicole Kidman, Bette Middler, Pink, Kylie and Danni Minogue all gave generous financial gifts of $500,000. Chris Hemsworth and Sir Elton John donated $1,000,000 each. Corporations got on board, musicians held events and handed over proceeds, sports stars auctioned their personal items, working and playing for free to raise funds, to help in the only way they could – through generosity. And the world felt the pain of our suffering too, the kind spiritedness and empathy shown by other nations was heartening.
19 million hectares of bush perished, an ‘estimated’ one billion animals died and some endangered species maybe driven to extinction, 5,790 buildings destroyed, (2,700 were family homes), 31 lives lost, and our air quality (previously once the most pristine) was suddenly recording the worst pollution levels in the world. Mother nature was certainly reacting, and climate change was well and truly in our face and on our plate, to deal with. No one was denying this, as our nation faced the worst catastrophe and mass evacuations since World War two! The army reserves were put to good use to evacuate the stranded folk on holiday from the beaches, and fire fighters from around the globe were dispatched to assist our own tired and weary, battle scarred men and women. Nature is a hard beast to fight! The realisation was sinking in that this was probably just the beginning of how we would face our future if we kept going in the direction we were; profit over planet. How we lived our lives needed to be reconsidered, and FAST!
From Sydney, we then travelled to Canberra for a fleeting visit (owing to the worsening bush fires) to the National Gallery to view Picasso and Matisse, who had come to town. However the air was becoming thicker with smoke and it had become increasingly hard to see twenty feet in front of you. This was frightening to say the least, as we drove back to Sydney through the thick blanket of red fog, not knowing how close the fires were to us. We just knew the South Coast was not a good place to be as the fires worsened and encroached upon the holiday towns. We didnt want to get stuck in a massive car evacuation either so we cut our Canberra visit short and owing to the air quality in Sydney we flew back to South Australia to see in the New Year. We were not exempt from the fires at home either, but the air was marginally clearer owing to the size of the ones happening here.
We are all observers of life; our own and others. We observe inaction, reaction, mediocrity, melodrama, injustice,…. you get the picture. My investigations through Art, was teaching me how to observe not only the visual aspects of the physical world, but also how to portray the hidden qualities of humankind.
This was my response to what was happening in the world. The very evidential effects of climate change and the fires I was witnessing in my own country. The images in the media of the massive smoke plumes, blood red skies, fire tornadoes creating their own weather patterns…it felt like Armageddon had arrived!
At the time I started the painting in February 2020, the world also entered into the COVID-19 pandemic and the Collective Community was commencing an international shutdown.
Whilst the original intention of the emerging painting was to depict mankind’s effect on the planet from an environmental perspective, this was enhanced as the months played out and the painting became progressively more complicated. It was an automated response to what was happening in the real world.
My ouvre is still that of the ‘unseen’. The man covering his eyes in shame; representing mankind’s unwillingness to acknowledge the impact we have made upon the earth. Let’s not look at the obvious, but suffer the consequences as a result. He is mankind and he is also G.O.D. A catastrophe is unfolding all around: the ramifications of destruction, darkness and death obliterate the whole canvas, whilst a deliberate space of plain black canvas at the bottom right corner represents the nothingness which might remain, should we keep going on this trajectory of man made destruction. This is our own fault, and now nature is responding with fire and disease, for we had become too greedy with our consumerism and treatment of our home – Gaia. We have for too long been complacent in our attitude toward nature. The writing has been on the wall for a long time.
I worked in a different way this time, which was totally automated and without an original sketch, I pulled the idea from my imagination through what I was feeling about the current state of destruction happening globally; both invisible and tangible. As I painted the swirling smoke upon the canvas, ghouls appeared, and so I pulled them out and made them more obvious. As the year progressed so did COVID-19 and it became our worst collective nightmare. I placed death in the left hand corner because I can remember feeling very frightened by what felt like the end of the world. And I wondered why we didn’t take heed from these very realistic creative movies, which depicted our very worst potential outcomes.
2020 really was the year from hell, and this was how it looked and felt to me.
The painting took six months to complete. Have to say, I’m really over black paint! And I’m really over COVID!
As the author of this work I (Barbara Harkness) acknowledge the moral rights to the above have been asserted with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988.
If you wish to use any of my material you may contact me for permission.