Visual artists are a grand bunch, in general. I certainly envy the way that a skilled draftsman can capture a scene or an aspect or an object in a way that doesn’t attempt to copy whatever it is they’re drawing but accentuates and highlights the essence of the thing that makes it what it is, while making a completely new artefact. I admire this ability to understand the mechanics of a thing and then present it to me in a way that makes me see something that I’ve spent my life looking at, without ever actually noticing it.

There are some oddly recurring themes in the visual representations of suburban Australia; at least, the ones that I come across or am attracted to. The geometric designs that power lines make against the blue sky is one. The first time I noticed this (or the representation of it) was on the T-shirts the Ashtray collective was producing in the 1980s. I worked at the Arid Lands Environment Centre in Alice Springs back then and we used to sell lots of Ashtray stuff, mostly Paul Worstead’s Ayers Rock Fruit Salad and Not Passing Through shirts, though one of my favourites was Reg Mombassa‘s power lines shirt. Universally reviled as a clothing motif and almost impossible to sell.

power lines

Sometimes we notice things subconsciously but don’t notice that we’re noticing them, even when we’re engaging with them at some level. Okay: change that “we” for “me”. I had pictures of the trees that have been pruned by the council subcontractors, so that they don’t hinder the power lines but, even after having taken them I hadn’t known what to do with them. This one’s on Emerald Street, though it could be anywhere around town.

Pruned tree

It’s a bit like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, building mountain shapes with mashed potato and clay but not knowing why. This one finally found its mental “home” when Trevor Dickinson produced this tree drawing as part of his Newcastle series (you’ll have to go to his Newcastle Productions website to view it).

Ah! Thank you, Trevor. I now know what it was that I was looking at all this time and trying to see.

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