Pamela Griffith ..between East & West

28 February – 29 March 2009
Opened Saturday 7th March at 3.00pm by
Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn, College of Fine Arts, University of NSW

. . . between East & West
Animals of the Asian Zodiac - A Suite of Relief Prints
The Galapagos - The Landscape and Fauna of the origin of Darwin's "origin of species"

The Animals of the Asian Zodiac project comprises twelve relief prints each limited to forty prints in the edition. This exhibition will feature the Zodiac series as individual relief prints, archival Boxed Sets numbered and signed and other paintings and etchings paying homage to Asian themes and philosophy.

In the Chinese horoscope the lunar calendar has a 60 year cycle. The 5 basic elements of metal, water, wood, fire and earth are combined with the 12 animal signs of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Your Chinese Horoscope is based on which lunar year of the 60 year cycle you were born in.

The Galapagos Islands are the home of the roots of evolution as defined by Charles Darwin following his famous visit on the "HMS Beagle" and the subsequent publication of his "On the Origin of Species."

Pamela Griffith visited the Galapagos and has produced this series of magnificent acrylics on canvas featuring the unique wildlife in the landscapes to be found there. Five of these paintings and a specially struck etching will feature in the National Gallery of Victoria's Darwin Exhibition in August 2009 and will also be used as illustrations to an accompanying book for the exhibition.

. . . between East and West

Pamela Griffith’s love for the natural world is the driving force and a long-time motif for this prominent and multi-talented Australian visual artist. In this exhibition she presents imagery from the opposite ends of the earth to represent a selection of wildlife in their natural habitats significant to both Eastern and Western cultures.

Working from her dual printmaking and painting studios, Pamela has produced a series of 12 animals that make up the Asian Zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig are all vividly hand-printed using reverse carved, inked and accurately registered blocks following a tradition first encountered in illustrated books from her favourite Ming Dynasty period (1368-1644), well before the development of Western colour printing.

Almost 180 degrees east, or west, of China, 1000 kilometres from mainland Ecuador and at zero latitude are the unique landscapes and natural wonders of the Galapagos Islands. This chain of constantly evolving and rapidly moving (in geological terms) volcanic “islands of the tortoises” remains the most pristine tropical archipelago on earth with 95% of its wildlife intact despite the annual presence of over 100,000 visitors and a resident population explosion from 2000 to 30,000 in two years.

As an artist with inherent sensitivity to the plight of natural places impaired by human intervention, Pamela Griffith’s journey to The Galapagos realised a long-time desire to visit this origin of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, the manuscript that most influenced her academic and self-education in the natural sciences.

Finding it impossible to draw or paint on the islands she visited, a wealth of memories and a pool of images taken by herself and 15 of her fellow creative travellers provided the spark for the development of a digitally aided technique to accurately paint the unique and diverse suite of Galapagos wildlife and landscapes.

Magnificent Frigate Birds, Blue Footed Boobies, Land Iguanas, resplendent Pink Flamingos, intricately patterned Wave Albatrosses, elegant Swallow Tailed Gulls, Great Blue Herons, Brown Pelicans, playful Sea Lions and other species that provided a young Charles Darwin’s first evidence towards the realisation of his theory of evolution, come alive on the canvas, captured in acrylics chosen to best represent the distinctive colouring of The Galapagos.

And to bring together Pamela’s renowned printmaking abilities with her fond Galapagos memories, a newly struck etching captures sea lions, boobies, frigate birds, Sally Lightfoot crabs, marine iguanas and the giant Galapagos tortoise in their natural environments. Bungendore Wood Works Gallery is proud to have been selected as the first and only gallery to exhibit the Wondrous Isles of the Galapagos etching, bound, together with five paintings, for exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria later in 2009.

. . . between East and West is a place of fiction and of the imagination, an impossible point of longitude, but such a wonderful place for you to share, with an accomplished and sensitive artist, in a celebration of scale, time, adaptation and relationships so evident in the natural world, and yet, seemingly impossible to universally achieve in the human experience.

Stan d’Argeavel MA(Visual Arts)
Exhibition Coordinator

Developing a Technique for The Galapagos Paintings

Whilst in the Galapagos with fifteen other creative people it was decided that we would pool all of our photographs. We all had laptops with us so each evening when we boarded our boat we downloaded and created discs of all the images we had taken during the day. This solved the problem of seeing an animal or view from a number of angles as everyone stood in different positions but basically photographed the same thing. This is wonderful for an artist who is looking for the best angle and for the most detailed information. I had a Canon digital camera that I have recently upgraded to DS126071 as I envied some of the other travellers with the SLR function on their cameras. I was very happy with my images.

It was impossible to draw on the island as every moment was packed full with experiences and I had to keep up with the guide and the others in the group. As the islands are so fragile it is necessary for visits under supervision of trained guides who are able to keep people on tracks where they can do the minimum amount of harm.

Once back in Australia I had a wealth of memories and picture prompts. I printed items of real interest on my A3 printer and pinned them on a board. For better colour I printed some on high quality gloss photographic paper at A4 size. I have a digital projector so the pick of the bunch was transferred to a disc and played out on the projector and it was almost as if I were there.

With my story-board and my pencils and charcoal I often made sketches to get my composition right and to understand the nature of the animal. Once the plan was decided on I began work in acrylic on canvas. I made frequent reference to my pictures both on the screen, on the computer, and on the print.

These days when artist’s have their own web sites and submit work to competitions and to galleries it is necessary for them to be computer literate. Without these skills it is almost impossible to operate as the art world now places so many demands on artists to supply images of their work. Modern media have been taken up by artists in the same enthusiastic way as artists embraced photography when it was first developed in the 1850’s. At that time portrait artists in particular were forced to move to photography or go under. Probably this is why so many early photographs were staged like portraits and had painted props in the background.

If one were to consider the interest that Renaissance artists had in lens and how artists loved to use camera techniques long before the invention of the chemicals that made the photograph possible you will realise that there is now another generation of artists celebrating the invention of digital technology."

The Galapagos Paintings

Paintings marked with an asterisk have been selected for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Ian Potter Centre of Australian Art, Federation Square, Melbourne for inclusion in an exhibition of on Charles Darwin as part of the 200th year Darwin Celebrations in August, and for use as illustration in an accompanying book to be published by Melbourne University Press.

Anybody purchasing these paintings would have the option to have their painting included in the exhibition at the NGV with all costs of loaning the works to the NGV born by the artist. This will give the painting an excellent provenance value and increase the value of the painting itself over time.

Mocking Birds and Sea Urchin. 40 x 50 cm -acrylic on canvas $1200

These cheeky little mocking birds came looking for water and food as soon as people arrived on the beach. They invaded lunch boxes and looked in back packs. In this picture I tried to capture their interest in a desiccated sea urchin that had been washed up. I used sponge and many other items like toweling and old brushes to pat on the sand texture in color layers in the back ground. I then picked out many little details using a fine round brush.

* Flamingo Lake 100 x 120 cm Acrylic on canvas $6950

This incredible lake was shallow and there were patches of pink color in the sandy bottom. The vegetation growing on the volcanic soil was unusual and bright. I tried to capture the vivid colors and to show the activity of not only the Greater Flamingos but also the little finch like bird building a nest in the foreground. Most of the picture was painted with large soft flat brushes and the foreground was painted with a little round brush and a small flat. I used synthetic brushes with the acrylic paint when picking out the detail.

Sea Lions 44.5 x 60.5 cm - acrylic on canvas $1950

The red volcanic sand looked fantastic next to the glossy body of the sea lions. The animals are not at all perturbed by the presence of people as they lie on the waters edge or frolic in the water. The young males are very mischievous and I wanted to capture their freedom and joy in this picture. The colors of the Galapagos are so different to anywhere else they require a rethinking and fresh approach to landscape.

Swallow Tailed Gulls. 40 x 50cm - acrylic on canvas $1500

These birds make their nest in succulent foliage on the edge of cliffs. Sea spray is a constant part of their environment. I began by boldly splashing and flicking paint to represent the spray once I had mapped in the composition and painted the blue of the sky. After this bit of daring the rest of the painting of the birds and nest became quite precise and required small round and flat soft synthetic brushes.

* Galapagos Landscape with Nesting Blue Footed Boobies.106 x 101.5cm - acrylic on canvas $6500

This massive undertaking involved much planning. The background was painted in in layers of color and the suggestion of mist and clouds involved thick paint and thick bristle commercial paint brushes and scumbling and glazing. Scumbling is where opaque color is added to a glaze vehicle and often shows the under painting through semi transparent layers. Glazing is where a varnish carries transparent colors that do not mask, but rather enrich, the layers of color underneath. The island seemed to be shrouded in a wet mist. The ghostly, almost leafless trees, attracted me to this primeval landscape. Amongst the red volcanic boulders are giant tortoises and nesting blue, footed boobies. These gannets were painted carefully with fine round brushes to pick out the detail of the birds. A great deal of effort went into creating a feeling of depth by working out a tonal plan and sticking to it. The gannets and their nesting place comprise the foreground then there is the mid ground where the trees and tortoises and cacti grow. The perspective of the trees helps the feeling of depth. In the background I reduced the size of the scrubby trees and I glazing a misty and indistinct background.

Galapagos Hawk 84 x 66 - acrylic on canvas $2750

On the first day of arrival on the Island the first bird I encountered was this large Galapagos hawk. It sat motionless in front of me and I could get as many photographs as I wished. It would have possibly carried the same DNA as the hawk that was described by Charles Darwin. I could not help but think “this is probably the great, great grand son of the one described by Darwin. The misty sky and very green leaves look funny when back in Australia where our trees and leaves are a dull green gray.

In a way my desire to capture what I saw makes the work seem almost naïve in its coloring. I suddenly realized on my first day I was going to have to leave my past experiences behind and develop a new approach to capture the colors of the Galapagos.



* Land Iguana and Yellow Warbler 61x 90 cm - Acrylic on canvas $3500

The contrast between the size and nature of these two animals gave me a perfect Galapagos subject as everywhere you look there are contradictions and symbiotic relationships. The scaley-like skin of the land Iguana was painfully achieved occasioning hours of work. These natural history paintings can only be done for the pure joy of studying the animals as they are hardly the subject matter that people usually collect and hang in their home. It is risky to paint ugly animals or even reptiles as they do not have the same “cute” appeal that a mammal has. My trip to the Galapagos was all about discovery and I did not think twice about who might like to buy the work. It was a period of self-development.

* Wave Albatross Nesting Ground, Espanola Island 91.5 x 112cm - Acrylic on canvas $6500

Stage 1 Laying in the base colors using a house painting brush. A pool of mixed paint on the glass slap used for the undercoat.

Stage 2 sorting out the composition which in this case is all about the land and not the sky so the land takes up most of the landscape.

Stage 3. The sky now needs some flying albatrosses to tie in with the activity in the foreground.

Stage 4. Finished work. This is a story telling painting. It has albatrosses sitting on their eggs in the foreground. In the middle ground there are courting albatrosses rubbing their beaks together in a type of duel. Some birds are taking off on what is in effect a runway. These large birds need to take a run on the right slope to catch a thermal that will set them on their long daily flights over the ocean.

The sky is dotted by Albatrosses in various flight patterns and taking off and landing.

* Boobies on the Wing 45 x 60 cm - Acrylic on canvas $1950 - SOLD

I am fonder of this painting than most of the others as I captured exactly what interested me. I sought to show these wonderful gannets in formation over a rising wave. Their flight patterns are interesting and it is wonderful to see them diving for fish. Blue pictures are notorious for not working. Blue is a powerful color to compose and integrate. Because there is a large amount of blue in this picture and as pattern is important it works well as everything is harmonious.

Brown Pelicans 60 x 60 cm - Acrylic on canvas $2750

This is a tight composition as the two brown pelicans fill the image area with little margin and they balance each other compositionally. Rarely do I get to use blue greens and greens as I have had the opportunity to do with this picture. The water was a remarkable colour and with the brown of the birds makes a strong colour statement. The patterns of the feathers make this a really rich almost decorative piece. A square canvas was selected to suit the tight symmetry of the composition.

* Magnificent Frigate Birds 100 x120 cm - Acrylic on canvas $6950

Frigate birds are beautiful and ugly at the same time. They steal food from other birds and they have remarkable flying patterns. The male has a great red throat.

I awoke on board the little boat to see the incredible pyramid of rock standing in a mill pond sea. I wanted to capture the calmness and at the same time to add drama in the foreground. I had been watching these birds hover as we sailed along and their groupings interested me. I decided to use them as the theme in this painting. Layers and layers of paint were applied to capture the reflections and the light on water. This large painting has a dramatic impact. I hope it captures the volcanic nature of the Galapagos group of islands.

Greater Flamingos, Floreana Island 60.5 x 44.5 cm - acrylic on canvas $1950

The ridiculous shapes of these, hard-to-believe, pink birds, and their surreal background was a visual experience that I had never really expected. I decided to do this simplistic, almost decorative painting to record my disbelief of my surroundings. While these amazing birds are to be found in other parts of the world, it is the spectacular landscape of the Galapagos and the unique position of each island in the quickly moving chain that ensures a variety of habitats suitable for each species.




Great Blue Heron Studies 77 x 64 cm Acrylic on canvas $1950

Only a mother could love a bird as ugly as this heron when it has its head retracted. Every so often I would come across one of the herons and I would try to photograph it.

From these pictures I composed a fanciful impression of the islands and the bays.

The colors and shapes are stark and volcanic and embody the mood of the place as the silent and still heron sits and waits for its prey.


Animals of the Asian Zodiac

Relief Prints - Framed $725 Unframed $440 - Limited Edition of 40. Archival Boxed Set 5/40 $4950






Saturday 15 November 2008