17 October - 19 December 2004
Curator: Janice Baker
The representation of clouds in art takes many forms, reflecting how our understanding of the world has shifted across the centuries. The physical position of the clouds, situated between heaven and earth, associates them with a higher order, a characteristic that recurs in art through the ages.
The 17th century philosopher René Descartes pragmatically observed that humans were naturally more impressed by things above them than below them. In the Old Testament, God prompts events on Earth from the clouds, and in Renaissance and Baroque art, angels engage in divine duties from the clouds that hover above the heads of mortals. In the paintings of Walmajarri artist Jarinyanu David Downs, Kurtal the 'great storm being' of the Western Australian Kimberley is manifest as a cloud bank, and holds the sky above his head with his fingers.
Some artists inscribe words, make incisions and insert fantastical elements in their skies to highlight or interrupt traditional symbolism. They seek to expose the gaps that exist between nature and art, and our attempt at narrative ordering of the world. Rosemary Laing disrupts our expectations of 'cloud beauty' in a disarming image of a bride in the clouds - a metaphor for the unbridled reaches of the human imagination. Michael Riley's feather-cloud is a poignant metaphor for the loss of Australian Indigenous culture and land.
As a technical device clouds diffuse the light of the sun to create a sense of naturalistic illumination. This can be seen in Aert van der Neer's painting, a meticulous observation of the sky at dusk and its chiaroscuro (light and dark) effects on the landscape. As well as their function in the lighting and composition of a picture, clouds freqently symbolise moods associated with the weather.
Romantic artists in the 19th century extolled cloud-beauty in their art, seeing in clouds an antidote to the rigid order and classification of science. JMW Turner's skies invariably reflect the human drama enacted below, and create a disconcerting sense of menace as if a determining power were controlling the narrative.
Stretches of blue, cloudless sky and a distinctive quality of light, are a characteristic of the Western Australian landscape. Perhaps artists in Western Australia respond to the lengthy absence of clouds by focusing intently on their presence? The panoramas of Frank Morris reveal the endless transformation of colour in the sky, and the inability to locate the form of clouds to one moment. In Howard Taylor's painting the substance of paint is used to reveal the structure of cloud as a shimmering field of vapour and light.