Essay by Damien Smith for Exhibition at Maroondah Art Gallery 2007
Carolyn Goldberg - Journeys to knowing
In these unpeopled pictures the land has the power. The paintings are my routes into knowing it – I, a woman of European descent, not so young now, who ventures into deserts. There, the Aboriginal past is ever-present. Inscribed over the tracks of European explorers and pioneers, small settlements cling to
threads of water, struggling as ever with the scale of the continent. Between the wide distances, the desert may reveal for you small natural sanctuaries.
Increasingly art is the product of a busy world. It tells us how fast things are going, how much we are changing, how at odds we are with nature. Seemingly therefore, to locate oneself in an artistic tradition that seeks the spiritual in the natural, one must disengage from the noisy chatter of contemporary life. In her carefully composed paintings of the deserts and townships of outback Australia, artist Carolyn Goldberg has taken just such a step. Seeking to convey her experiences and impressions of central Australia, Goldberg has adopted a topographical view of the land, reminiscent of satellite imagery.
Although not the first Australian to work in this mode, Goldberg’s solitary immersion in the spaces of the outback provides an authenticity that demands
attention. In the nuances of these shifting realms, there is a sense that Goldberg has a profound affinity with the landscape she depicts. Seen from
a distance her paintings delineate both the harsh contours and green expanses of the interior. At closer inspection however, they are marked by meandering and wavy lines, suggestive of corporeal channels and self-dividing cells.
For Goldberg, the solitude of the outback is as necessary for her creative process as it is for her spiritual sustenance, which, as the artist points out,
has fulfilled a yearning long experienced. I don’t seem to need to search any more. I’ve realised that when I go out into the bush it is that kind of
connection, and painting may be like writing a prayer.
There is of course an awareness for Goldberg of the primacy of Aboriginal culture and history, when dealing with the landscape. As the artist is quick to
point out however, what she experiences is something quite different to the sentiments of the Aboriginal painters whose works she so admires. Instead,
artists such as John Olsen, Fred Williams and Rosalie Gasgoine are pre-cursors to her engagement with the landscape, sharing with Goldberg a newcomer’s sensibility, which must grapple with and confront Australia’s multi-layered history.
The image of an artist, alone in the desert with no company aside from her trusty German Shepherd, as Carolyn prefers to travel, is an intriguing
proposition. It proposes a connection that resonates in the Australian psyche in a myriad of fashions, simultaneously comforting and disturbing. In Goldberg’s work her reverence for the landscape converges with themes of oneness, confluence and transformation, which are explored with unusual sensitivity. As a means of engaging with the self, however, Goldberg has produced images gleaned from a stillness that in contemporary life is rarely pursued so intently or with such memorable results.
By Damian Smith, September 2007