As a student at the National Art School in the 1960’s I was introduced to Taoist philosophy and discovered Indian tantric art. At that time, I didn’t realize the influence this would have on me.
After graduation I exhibited paintings and taught at TAFE for many years. Then I studied and professionally practiced Traditional Chinese Acupuncture for ten years alongside my art practice. Working with subtle energy systems of Five Element Acupuncture, naturally influenced my artwork.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s I worked as a stills photographer on documentary film and book projects with Aboriginal elders and began to see expression of that elemental energy in their stories, song-lines and country, this changed the way I viewed landscape.
Some photographic projects that personally influenced me were the documentary “Flight of the Windhorse” about the first Australian Himalayan hot-air ballooning expedition in Nepal in 1985 (my introduction to Tibetan Buddhism). Photo research and photography for the book “Burnum Burnum’s Aboriginal Australia – A Traveller’s Guide” produced for the Bi-Centenary in 1988. The documentary “Kakadu Man” about Bill Neidjie, of the Bunitj clan Gagudju language group of northern Kakadu in 1990. (he invited me back to draw and paint his country).
In 1992, two favourite assignments as photographer were for the Sydney visit of the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet and photographing the handover ceremony for the remains of Mungo Lady at Lake Mungo, both in 1992.
Lake Mungo, like Kakadu, became a place that draws me back and I have produced and exhibited paintings, drawings, etchings and photographs from these places over the years. I always took a sketch pad, pencils, inks and crayons with me to sketch during breaks from photographing. Back home in the studio, many paintings, works on paper, experiments with etching and chine-colle came about because of these projects and journeys. Initially I worked with painting, printmaking and photography as individual practices, now I equally enjoy mixed media.
In 2000, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory included me in their exhibition “Artists in the Field: A Retrospective’ and bought one of my drawings for their collection.
In 2001, the Manly Art Gallery and Museum presented a survey show of my work based on 13 years of desert journeys called “Alchemic Wilderness: a survey 1988 – 2001- Lake Mungo, Desert and Kakadu”. It included photographs, drawings, etchings and paintings. They acquired an etching for their collection.
I decided to investigate Tibetan Buddhist ideas of the Five Elements as a portal into concepts of landscape, (including Australian Indigenous) for the Master of Philosophy, Visual Arts Graduate Program at ANU. I completed five bodies of work from landscapes as diverse as Lake Mungo (earth) Mystery Bay (water) Central Western Desert (fire,) Glasshouse Mountains (air) and Space as the fundamental basis of all the elements … inner space, outer space, the bardo, pictorial space, mind space. Chinese, Indian and Tibetan cultures have variations in their philosophical and visual traditions of the Five Elements. This was an opportunity to examine the diverse knowledge systems and spiritual practices I have engaged in over many years and explore how my Buddhist practice interfaces with the methodology of my art practice. I actively reviewed my painting practice as a contemplative art practice and investigated traditional and contemporary Australian, European and Tibetan artists. This research became part of my exegesis titled “Contemplation and Immersion: Exploring the Five Elements and Australian Landscape” awarded in 2020. My work is suffused with Buddhist philosophy and overlaid with environmental concern.
To see more of Carmen’s work go HERE.