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Where Nature meets Culture 2 - A marriage of art and poetry

"As We Travel" - by Luke Wagner inspired by the poetry of  James McAuley

Not too far away at the Colville Gallery at the far end of Salamanca, Tasmanian artist Luke Wagner  has fulfilled a long held ambition to paint a series based on the poems of James McAuley (1917 -1976) a well-known Australian academic, poet, journalist and literary critic perhaps most famous for the “Ern Malley Hoax” in which he and a collaborator, despising modernist poetry, successfully submitted sixteen nonsense poems to a literary magazine.  

The opening of Wagner’s exhibition entitled “In his Sleep” coincided with what would have been McAuley’s hundredth birthday. Each canvas is based on one of McAuley’s last eleven poems (less controversial than the Ern Malley series) in the book “Time Given” which was published shortly after his death in 1976. 

The opening was well attended

"Winter Morning" the painting

The poem by James McAuley:                     

              Winter Morning

Spring stars glitter in the freezing sky
Trees on watch are armoured with frost
In the dark tarn of a mirror a dark face appears
Time is moving through displacements
Hungrily the blind earthworm burrows
Deeper into its night. Surely heaven must ache with all its vacancies
A dog’s howl is thrown up like a rope trick
It is an hour for prayer without words.

What both men share is a passion for this enigmatic island with its evocative landscapes and its changing moods. What McAuley sought to apprehend in words, Wagner seeks to convey with brush and paint.  His work in oils with wax on linen reminds me of the fata morganas of the desert or a half remembered dream.

"The River Winds in Silence"

The poem which inspired it:

Fingal Valley

The blonding summer grasses,
The stubble fields, the green,
The sheep in pools of shadow,
Mauve thistle flowers between.

The jagged ridge stands sharper
Without a bushfire haze;
The river winds in silence
Through wide blue hours, days
For all the work of summer
The landscape hardly stirs.
A lark flies from a tussock,
Unseen a cricket chirrs.

Insect and bird are owners,
But nothing her is mine,
At most a moment’s leasehold,
To cherish and resign

"A Moment's Leasehold"

Autumn in Hobart
Snow-cloud, a rainbow, blue sky, rain.
All at one time; the wet streets shine
In pale gold sunlight, a cold breeze ruffles.
The reds and yellows of wet trees.
The yellow –throated honeyeater knows
How to like this place; he’s active, greedy
And defines his world with music.

"Pale Gold Sunlight"

"St. Francis"

These are my favourites, though I can only put a few on here. See more at the Gallery - beware of the savage parking inspectors!  or look on the Colville Gallery's website for much better images and all the poems that go with them.

A diffident Luke Wagner stands in the background at his opening. Asked if he would like to comment he said,
" I'd rather let the paintings do the talking."

Many thanks to  Kate Westlake, daughter of James Mc Auley, and Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty. Ltd. for allowing me to include some of the poems here.

All poems reprinted by Arrangement with the Licensor, The James McAuley Estate, c/- Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd.