As a young student in the mid 1980s, I experienced the privilege of scuba diving through a kelp forest in the Tinderbox Marine Reserve in southern Tasmania. It was like suddenly finding myself in a magical world which had existed, unseen and unsuspected, right alongside where I lived my daily life. It was one of those rare moments in life (at least for me) when I felt part of a wider and more mystical world. Life moved on, with me wrapped up in my own concerns and strivings. I moved away from Tasmania, and moved back decades later with a young family and with far more awareness of the fragility of our ecosystems. I was deeply saddened to find that less than 5 per cent of eastern Tasmania’s kelp forests remain (Remembering Tasmania’s Underwater Forests, ABC Science, 2021). Because they are out of sight and out of mind, these priceless natural treasures are becoming lost to us without most of us even being aware of it. This is why I wanted to represent a kelp forest in an artwork as a way to help make them seen. In the bottom left corner I have added a Ziebell’s handfish, a species that has been found on the edge of the Actaeon kelp forests and is currently listed as critically endangered, although there have been no confirmed sightings since 2007. (Why the death of a small, punk-like fish rocked the marine world, The Guardian, 2020).
The Actaeon Reef system is situated at the southern entrance to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, between the Southern end of Bruny Island and the Tasmanian mainland, very close to the site where I took that first dive. It is named after a ship that was wrecked on the reef in 1822, which was one of an number of shipwrecks that led to the building of the Cape Bruny Lighthouse that overlooks that area. This lighthouse, and the surrounding area is the site of many other vivid and special memories for me.
In this artwork I play with unusual perspective; blending an underwater scene looking upwards, with a view of the Cape Bruny Lighthouse from across the surface of the landscape. I aim to evoke a feeling of mysteriousness and wonder by depicting real places from a magical perspective – an example of an art genre known as Magical Realism. Another inspiration for this artwork was my admiration for the work of Robert Gonsalves, a Canadian painter, well known for his work in this genre.
This guide drawing is ready to transfer (in mirror-image) onto the lino block. I have left in the outlines of the distant hills extending into the centre of the image, however my plan is to keep just the horizon line as the mountains transition into the underwater area below the floating kelp.
The lightest tones (except for the white) are the sunlight shining through the kelp leaves transitioning into sunset light on the cloud edges and behind the lighthouse. The very soft pink will be for the fish, with some extra accents on the rocks.
This stage involves putting in the dominant blue to aqua gradient of the water, merging into the blue of hills behind the lighthouse.
Lighter green highlights on the seaweed and hillside, as well as soft red details on the handfish and spots of red seaweed.
This layer consists of deep gold-yellow as the underlying colour of the kelp, with glints to show through in the clouds and hillside rocks.
Nearly there at last! The same mid/dark green is used here to create form in the kelp and grassy hillside.
The final stage, as always, is the darkest dark, in this case a very dark muted green verging on black. This contrast is needed to bring life to all the lighter colours, and create a sense of form through shadows.