The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) opened two important exhibitions in March. Salient: Contemporary artists at the Western Front displays moving artworks by a dozen leading Australian artists responding to World War I, while New England High Country: Forty Photographers exhibits images of regional life, landscapes and people. Both run until Saturday, June 3.
We will bring you interviews with the artists, commenting on their work, while the exhibitions run.
“My subject,” landscape painter Michelle Hiscock said, “is the way that nature is able to renew itself after such incredible destruction.”
Her watercolours depict the Menin Gate, the main Commonwealth memorial in Ypres, Flanders; a tree at the Hill 60 battlefield memorial site outside Ypres; and the Pool of Peace, a mine crater turned into a memorial.
“They put aside some of the most important battlefields for nature to reclaim them,” she said. “They didn’t return them to farmland in quite the same way that they did in other parts, particularly France.”
She expected to be depressed, but was surprised by how restful the sites were, how still and solemn. Generations of people have gone there reverentially as pilgrims, she said.
“It’s as if the landscape had become a giant open air cathedral, where so much carnage and destruction gave way to this incredible feeling of peace.”
Michelle’s great-grandfather made saddles for the Light Horse; as a member of a reserved profession, necessary to the war effort, he remained in Australia.
Both of her husband’s, art critic Christopher Allen’s, grandfathers fought in the war. One was Major General Arthur Samuel “Tubby” Allen, who fought the Japanese on the Kokoda track in WWII.
The other was gassed at Passchendaele.
“He was, ironically, a gasmask instructor,” she said. “Unfortunately, in the heat of the battle, he sat on his own mask, and it cracked. He was struck by a blast, and his face went into the mud, which was full of residue from the mustard gas. So he ended up blind and in hospital. They didn't think he would ever see again, and his lungs were so damaged they thought he wouldn't see his 30th birthday. Luckily, thanks to him being well cared for, he survived and lived into his late 70s - and therefore I have a husband, which is good!”
Michelle Hiscock lectures in drawing, printing, and printmaking at the National Art School, Sydney. A graduate of ANU, she has lived in Japan and France, held solo exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, taken part in group shows around Australia, London, and Switzerland, and been a finalist in several art prizes.