Artists and Place Studies

Imagined geographies

 Imagined geographies

Sue Michael,  Hong Kong Pharmacy, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 150 cm

Sue Michael, Hong Kong Pharmacy,2006, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 150 cm

We form ideas about places before we actually visit. This is the imagined geography. Of course, there is a wide field of imaginative worlds that authors, illustrators, artists and film makers have presented to us, but this topic is slightly more modest in its treatment of geographies; it is concerned with what we have personally imagined. The Hong Kong Pharmacy depicts a scene of a convivial meeting place, with generous packages of medicines, with a mood more akin to a domestic patio rather than my local store’s queues of unwell people. They are sharing a meal time, as two can be seen with chopsticks. There are certain aspects of place that the artist can grasp, and perhaps the almost bare spaces within the scene symbolise the aspects that I was oblivious to. Of course, I have used my imagination to present a harmonious colour array of pharmacy packages; this whirl not be an accurate depiction.

When I was a young child, as previously mentioned, my parents drove us on caravan holidays across Australia. My earliest journeys made mention that I was terrified, almost hysterical, when our car stopped near any mentioned wildflowers. I had, in my own mind, that these plants would behave like wild animals… and I think my family would have delighted in this and lovingly teased me for these beliefs. It does illustrate the point that there can be perceptions that are only known to you, and may not be shared as an artist. This can work for or against you though.

Connecting to local people with far more lived experience in a place you are interested in representing may help to resolve any of those ‘blank areas’, like my canvas, that you have little awareness about. If I was documenting a famous surfing competition, I could, of course, imagine a sort of close up view of the barrels of ocean waves with the riders. I may be less familiar with an extended viewpoint of that coast line with the difficulties in finding a car park. It would potentially be a stereotypical view I could take to read a surf magazine about a certain surfing champion, but what about his friends and crew who may sit endlessly on the beach, the experienced event organiser, and even locals interviewed in the off-season. There is so much more cultural and environmental awareness to gain before painting begins.

The imagined geography can be the artists’ strength.