Lizzie Buckmaster Dove

Into the Woods 2008

May 6 – 24, 2008
NG Art Gallery, 3 Little Queen St, Chippendale

Heading “Into the Woods” is an allegory used in mythologies the world over. It’s the journey of the hero, battling with demons within and around, returning form the dark forest stronger and wiser. Many artists understand their creative processes in this light, a story that resonates each time they head into the solitude of their studios. For Lizzie Buckmaster Dove, this ancient narrative rings true with her contemporary experience as a visual artist and as a traveller.

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Heading “Into the Woods” is an allegory used in mythologies the world over. It’s the journey of the hero, battling with demons within and around, returning form the dark forest stronger and wiser. Many artists understand their creative processes in this light, a story that resonates each time they head into the solitude of their studios. For Lizzie Buckmaster Dove, this ancient narrative rings true with her contemporary experience as a visual artist and as a traveller.

Buckmaster is an Australian who, following art school, left her native shores for 9 years, living in London and Barcelona, a well-trodden path for young Australians in search of career challenges and adventure. But while the local media loves to thump out the occasional rant from Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes on what’s wrong with the antipodes, not a lot is said about the formative experience of those who return home to settle after time away.

The world has changed since most of our fairytales were written. Our forests, the inspiration for so much literary and visual metaphor, have for the most part, been demystified, neatly categorised and illustrated. For most urban Australians, bushwalking has become something of a benign misadventure, abandoned at the first site of a snake. Many of our experiences with our environments are about engineering nature into something tameable – pruning bushes, bird watching, marlin fishing, white-water rafting, are all ways of taking on the wild forces of nature and crafting a fragile dominance, if just for a thrilling moment.

Buckmaster creates paper construction from images of native flora and fauna, working with the precision and measure of a curious botanist. In “Into the Woods”, we see the musings of an artist re-familiarising herself with her surroundings. On returning to Australia, the phenomenon she now notices most is the pre-dawn cacophony of native birds that is familiar to anyone who lives within earshot of a patch of green. Even in the centres of our cities, it’s can be more effective than any alarm, usually set much earlier than most of us would like.

There is a sense of romance at work here, as you might expect given her life’s experience so far, reconstituting the lifeless observations of local botanical manuals into something dynamic and alive. Through the simple act of curving sheets of paper, birds flutter across the page like musical notes. By carving out a silhouette of native fauna, gardening journals become like collections of pressed flowers. The uneasy marriage of crafted colonial wallpaper patterns with images of native flora echoes the troubled imposition of European culture onto this wild, brown land.

Book fetishists relish the romantic smell of decay that permeates any old bookstore, the musty scent of a forest floor. Paper has that wonderful quality of returning to nature over time. Buckmaster draws on this sense of nostalgia through her choice of materials. She reminds us that we look at nature through various prisms – cultural, aesthetic, spiritual, scientific – and it can sustain or deny our sense of belonging to a particular place. For Buckmaster, the journey into the woods taught her to look at her natural surrounds with fresh vision and with this intimate body of work, she takes us on that journey with her.

Paul Flynn