Tyurretye Waterhole, Todd River

 

1994,  132 x 311 cms NFS

 

Public Collection, University of Queensland Library

 

The 'Whitegate mob' are the subjects of monumentally scaled pictures which resonate with memories of the Old Masters (Gericault's, 'Raft', Seurat's, 'Grand Jatte', Gauguin's, 'D'Ou Venons Nous?') Moss's technique of neo-impressionistic colour, applied with evident gusto, and the blond tonality, which is the light of the desert, pay homage, as well, to the great era of French modernist painting. Paradoxically (or perhaps not, if one believes the cinema is the natural heir to the academic tradition), the long rectangular format, the horizontality of the narrative, and the patent artifice in the work, signified by the thin milky colour lying on top of the paper support - these are cinematic in intent.

 

Doubly jarring, therefore, is the dislocation created by the figures, whose flesh is rendered in graphite and with a high degree of photographic realism. Many inferences might be made from this clash of the media, not least, in a naive reading, 'otherness' or 'difference', a refusal of the indigenous Australians to be integrated into a Western prospect - like a black and white movie classic whose colorisation did not 'take'. Rod Moss's pleasurable and innocent engagement with paint, his humorous, B-Grade colonial romance with the Alice, which seems no deeper than the celluloid image, is, of course, a trick of the light. His art is invaded by subtle, yet insistent preoccupations. carefully balanced, so as not to spill over into overt social commentary, the pictorial dissonance is just sufficient to raise uncomfortable questions whose answers hover in a realm between comedy and tragedy.


'Waterhole' offers a view of the Todd River at Alice, gratifyingly flooded and providing relief from the fierce desert heat, its grassy bank the site for lazy gatherings of dogs and swimmers and the meetings of friends. A sort of Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Todd. On the far left, two black children are partially submerged in the shallows and laughing in invitation towards a pale blond child who shows its back to the viewer. There seems to be a story here, the kind of story Aboriginals trace with their fingers when shown images which are for them full of familiar meaning. Children at play; white and black reconciled in a baptismal ritual. But the child does not enter the water and, unlike the two laughing children, its face is hidden from us. Furthermore, because the hair and shoulders presented to the viewer are rendered in paint instead of graphite, the white child occupies a different dimension within the work.

It is part of the painted surface, like the landscape, the dogs, the clothing, all the things which are traditionally the subjects of the western artistic heritage, all the things which are NOT the Aboriginal people. Perhaps the child thus represents our western picturesque view, an idea which gains momentum from its 'voyeuristic' position. The graphite drawing sets the exotic Aboriginal apart. Submerged in the water, in his element, so to speak, he is nevertheless, and paradoxically, alien."

Mary Alice Lee