Walking into Desert Life, an exhibition by Sarah Brown which opened yesterday at the M16Artspace in Canberra is like being transported to Alice Springs. Except perhaps that the carefully-controlled temperature in the gallery is more moderate.
It is a strange language that is often used to describe the Red Centre. People talk of the dead heart of Australia. Of arid wasteland. Of a vast nothingness. As anyone who has lived there will attest, and as Sarah’s work shows, nothing is further from the truth. Her paintings portray not only the unique colours and shapes and space of Central Australia, although that alone is an extraordinary feat. But also the rich abundance of life there is, if only we choose to see it.
To look at her paintings is to feel the sting of the spinifex spike if you accidentally brush bare skin against it, to see the history of the earth in the walls of the MacDonnell Ranges. It is to need your sunglasses to look at the startling whiteness of the towering ghost gums against the bluest of blue skies. It is definitely not empty. Or dead. It is mysterious and magical and unique. And Sarah’s paintings convey that truth.
I first met Sarah when I went to interview her for a newspaper feature article. We met at her home which is as charming, colourful and unorthodox as she is. Quite apart from the very large dog which spent most of the interview on my lap, it has a labyrinth-like layout including a secret cellar. Scattered almost carelessly around the home were beautiful paintings of land that was a mirror of the country I had walked through that