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‘Love of the living’ shines in retro exhibition

WATERLOO: In 2018, when Australian environmentalist Bob Brown called for artists to visit the threatened ecosystem of the Tarkine in north-west Tasmania and to create artworks to help save Australia’s largest tract of cool temperate rainforest, Maroubra-based artist M.A. (Margaret) Vazey rose to the challenge.

Her oil painting “Tarkine Treasure Triptych” featured in an exhibition in Hobart in July 2019 as part of Tarkine in Motion, an initiative of the Bob Brown Foundation. As one of Australia’s largest environmental arts projects, its leaders are driving strategic action to have the Tarkine recognised as a National Park and World Heritage Area by 2020.

The Tarkine is a living example of one of the most primitive vegetation formations on Earth. It is also an area of great significance to Tasmania’s Aboriginal people.

According to Bob Brown, “Tarkine in Motion is more than a representation of the Tarkine’s inspiration. It is a call for us all to get involved in ending the needless mining, logging and off-road vehicle erosion of the Tarkine wilderness. May this art lead to action – and the saving of this wonderland for our own wellbeing.”

Margaret joined the campaign because she is “mad on trees” – and her triptych reflects her deep respect for them.

“Tragically, we are cutting down trees in Australia,” she says. “In Japan, they don’t cut down their trees – they just get us to cut down ours and send the pulp across to them. And we shouldn’t do it, and we never learn. But the Queen is! She’s created a project called the Queen’s Canopy and asked every country in the Commonwealth to protect standing forest – although our country is simply going to plant 20 million seedlings by 2020 instead.

“The idea of the Queen’s Canopy is you protect the ones you’ve got – and we’re not doing that, which is very sad.”

Margaret speaks about her passion for trees at Retro 2019, the Orchard Gallery’s final exhibition for the year in which “Tarkine Treasure Triptych” and two of her prints, “N’Dhala Gorge” and “The Swimmers”, share space with works by fellow artists from the gallery’s Saturday Art Classes.

The works exhibited are an eclectic mix of etchings, watercolours, drawings, collage, ceramics, embroidery, drawings and poetry. They demonstrate the strengths of the artists involved as well as the playful experimentation encouraged by art class tutors who bring their expertise and imaginative daring to the group on two Saturdays each month.

When Margaret tells Waterloo-based artist Rosalind Flatman she’s distressed that people don’t seem to understand how trees “cool the land and purify the air”, Rosalind agrees.

“Why don’t they get it? When they come in to Waterloo, where I live, they come and chainsaw everything. But what about the animals? Where can they go?”

Three works by Rosalind, “Regeneration” (Acrylics), “Rainbow Lorikeets” (Water-loo-colour) and “Local Resident” (Water-loo-colour), also feature in Retro 2019 and depict her strong connection to the area and its creatures.

Catherine Skipper honours Rosalind’s feline friend and companion Bernard Black in a black-and-white lino cut that appears in the exhibition. Bernard died earlier in 2019, and the launch of Retro 2019 on December 28 was dedicated in loving memory to him.

Carolyne May says her striking ink drawing “Battle” arose during a class where the group was meant to create wonderful creatures. “I thought, well, they’re all wonderful creatures, and I love dragonflies – so I decided to throw them in!”

Another fabulous creature depicted in “Battle” is equally intricate but somewhat stranger. “Part peacock, part eagle, part goat,” explains Carolyne, “all of the above!”

Carolyne’s intriguing collage, “Dog Story”, which depicts a cut-out dog chained to a fence in front of polaroid photo of a Waterloo building, stirred people at the launch to discuss what exactly the dog might be thinking about.

Catherine’s elegant etchings “Pods 1”, “Pods 2”, “Eve’s Tree” and “Collage” were also cited as favourites by artists and others who viewed them. Catherine is the Orchard Gallery’s artist in residence and is working towards a solo show at the gallery in October 2020.

Local resident, Lorraine Byrnes, hasn’t painted for a while but says Retro 2019 fuelled her desire to take it up again. “Look at this ballet dancer [by Carolyne May],” she says, “isn’t she beautiful? Our daughter is an artist in New York – and her work inspires me. She paints portraits and captures people’s emotions through their eyes. She also paints abstracts, which drive me to another level.

“Only painting can do this to you. It lifts your soul.”

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Retro 2019 is at the Orchard Gallery, 56a Raglan Street, Waterloo, until mid-February.

The Saturday Art Class meets at the gallery every second and fourth Saturday of the month from noon to 4pm, with gold coin donation to cover supplies. All welcome. Contact 0438 719 470 for more information.

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