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Katherine Boland’s large panels Part of Nature, made soon after her return to Australia from Egypt, exemplify the bold and physical nature of her practice. While she could be described as a globe trotter – she has spent time in France, America, Italy and the Middle East – it is her relationship with the Australian bush that inspires and continues to inform her practice.
These works speak directly of the climate of her homeland. Dry and somewhat foreboding, the native bushland of Australia is in a constant state of decay and renewal. With the approach of summer’s peak the forest floor becomes a tinder box. Trees drop their branches, bark furls and seed pods fall to the ground ready to be opened by the heat of the seasonal bushfires. Uncontrollable and devouring, fire in this environment serves as an important element within the order of establishing new growth.
With this cycle in mind, Boland begins the act of mark making by subjecting the surfaces of her large wood panels to the transformative power of flame. The heat of blow torch and branding iron releases the natural oils of the timber to create a velvety, blackened base surface, echoed with spots of fire and flame. A process of carving, incising and staining serve to capture the textures and colours of the natural forms they seek to suggest and bond with the natural elements.
Boland’s resulting shield-like shapes invite us to look into them, to search their surfaces for depth and new meaning. Tactile and resilient, they appear to possess clear character and purpose as they stand upright within the blackened background. Inky rivers of varnish drip from their centres like sap weeping from a wound. Perhaps these glistening centres represent a void, a cracking open, and outpouring of new potential life. Nature in this instance is generative.
Somewhere between sculpture and painting, these works succeed in referencing the artist’s observations of form and texture while also creating an evocative and disorientating experience of being in the bush. What was small – a leaf, seed husk or a flaking piece of bark – now occupies an immensity of scale.We have been drawn into the abstracted world of nature and are witness to the fleeting and primordial authority of nature’s chaos and order.