Good Art is … a journey to the heart

There are no people depicted in John Wolseley’s vast works on paper but there is enough observation of human presence to disturb us. His Gesamtkunstwerk, Heartlands and Headwaterson exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne, is a true depiction of a personal journey through the deep centre of Australia. While John apologises for his lack of scientific background, he displays a body of work that stands on its own as a naturalist’s thesis on the health of the ecosystems in Australia today.  The work is epic in its undertaking and intimate in its telling – a documentary exploration of life at the intersection of land and water across a near 3000km opus from Southern Tasmania to Australia’s far North.

Johns’ works, made over his many years of exploratory ‘meetings’ with the landscape, depict both vast landscapes and  minute observations. He pays homage to often overlooked plants and animals; sphagnum moss, burnt trees, insects, migratory birds. His collaboration with the environment – papers are left to drift over burnt land and are collected curled, scarred and marked – is a conscious attempt to hold up nature as the artist, with man placed in the role of vacant observer, grappling to translate and come to terms with the complexity of life.

John’s deep and sensitively rendered pools of water plants and fish allow a momentary respite – the scale of the drawings brings us to the edge of the water and transports us to a ‘discovery’ of a Monet-esque arcadia in the bush. But etched in the background are the steam pumping cooling towers of Loy Yang Power Station and the water thirsty cotton farms at Moree, scored onto the paper and impinging on remnant wetlands.

John’s purpose is to speak for the beautiful flora and fauna of this remarkable country and their truly precarious state.

For more on John please go to

For details on the exhibition

I was lucky enough to sit in on one of John’s drop by drawing sessions at the NGV last year – tellingly he talked about energy and the spaces between the water, the land and the sky in one of the paintings. I was overwhelmed by this exhibition.

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