Artists and Place Studies


Settled Areas



It was a crisp autumn’s night when I photographed a strange light in the sky above the remote town of Marree. It was only upon my return home to the city that I discovered its soft aqua glow, though at the time I remember a sort of cosmological feeling that ‘directed’ me to look up. I have just completed twenty years of formal Visual Art studies, and this exhibition has given me new freedoms where no grade will be assigned, and no personal justifications will be potentially debated. Instead, I have presented the open-ended investigations of regional South Australia where I have used the heart as a sensory organ. Joy was my compass.


Explorer, Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859), documented new locations with a thorough, systemized approach, and a ceaseless enthusiasm. He noted all that he could from his rainforest boat…including the sounds, smells, mood and ‘feel’ of his experiences. Plants, animals, rocks were all collected, perhaps informed by his friend Goethe’s ideas concerning wholeness and interconnections within a place. In a similar way I have sketched, noted and researched all manner of small details on my various travels north and west of Adelaide. I have filled forty-eight journals in the past five years, and I can assuredly say every page has been a help in my understanding of placemaking in South Australia. The diverse observations, of sometimes seemingly unimportant or unrelated daily activities, have cemented rationales as to why things are as they are.


I am very aware of the shifts in regional settlement and social conditions since my childhood.  Beyond my six ancestral generations who lived in South Australia, it is my children who are the first to be wholly urban dwellers. There was an option to focus on the ideologies that ‘swirl’ through regional 

matters, but instead, I have sought lived experience, informed by first-hand accounts, and a feeling that my long-gone ancestors were watching over me. Their perceived presence held a sort of grounding and balancing impetus on my inquisitive adventures, for it required me to reflect on how they would feel about any of my ensuing representations. The notion that the dead have needs also secured the theory that place is enduring and ongoing, with ever-moving edges that cannot be secured. Consequently, it seemed to me more appropriate to archive the wide field rather than to uphold a definitive and possibly subjective pronouncement, a claim or problematic solution. 


Life-as-it-is can still hold mysterious qualities that require further attention. Landscape, in my experience, can hold a strong grasp on your triangulated thoughts, imaginings and emotions. Even if a vista is nearly devoid of visual contrasts (unlike the epic images within the National Geographicmagazines of my childhood), there can be comforting emotions to draw upon, even if decades have passed. Some landscapes, especially those not required for tourism purposes, seemed to call me back, as though heart strings remained connected to certain places.


I am now a somewhat unsettled city dweller, requiring refreshment in the regional areas and reliant on my heart’s emotion and instinctive glances to collate my work. Rollin McCraty, the Director of Research at the HeartMath Institute suggests:

Although our finding that the heart is involved in intuitive perception may be surprising from one perspective, it is worth noting that in virtually all human cultures, ancient and modern, the heart has long been regarded as a conduit to a source of information and wisdom beyond normal awareness.[1]

Many of the sketches, paintings and monoprints I have made for Settled Areas(there are over fifty) may have a certain roughness that is not often required by the commercial worlds. Beside this aesthetic imperfection, they have an instinctive freshness or sense of immediacy, supported by a foundation of deep research into the complexities of place. The larger paintings are formed with the help of photocollage to make a philosophical device, a useful fiction. This flexibility allows what I have thought of as essential understanding to be brought together on the one picture plane. They are of the region, though can never be found.These representations can stand as they are, as an archive of a time that will surely pass. 

[1]Rollin McCraty, Mike Atkinson and Raymond Trevor Bradley. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1, The Surprising Role of the Heart, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 10, Number 1, 2004, pp. 133-143.

Review by Mike Lim:

Sue Michael