Elisabeth Condon, This Land Was Made for You

NZ Art Monthly, April 2009

March 5, 2009

In the News

NZ Art Monthly, April 2009

Elisabeth Condon, This Land Was Made for You
GRANTPIRRIE, Sydney, AUS 5 - 28 March, 2009
By Nell

Sydney artists Nell and Lionel Bawden reflect on the dynamic conversation between the companion exhibitions of Condon and Rothwell. Grounded in landscape, both exhibitions engage a dialogue around lost or imagined utopias/dystopias, our sense of connection to them and our displacement from them.

Hearing a Painting, Seeing a Song

"grass, grass, grass, trees, trees, trees, sky, sky, sky" - Woody Guthrie

Guthrie's song is the most pure landscape painting I have ever seen. I often 'hear' paintings and 'see' songs. Surely Oliver Sacks could explicate this complex neurological occurrence. He might describe Elisabeth Condon's paintings as a purposeful adventure in synesthesia. To get less perceptual and more actual, this apparent cross-pollination of the senses IS the experience of being alive. Condon's paintings are busting out with life. In an abundant universe not dissimilar to ours, one life form in her work moves fluidly into the next. Colours, times and shapes happily shift and flow without separation.

Elisabeth CondonElisabeth Condon, This Land Was Made for You and Me, Seven-panelled painting

Both Guthrie's songline and the Australian Aboriginal flag remind me of children's drawings where the constituent horizontal planes of earth and sky are punctuated with an unassailable purity by a round sun, a house or people. Likewise in Condon's painting, the trees and dwellings live the midst of a familiar nowhere. Her trees and her pagoda-like humpies live in song - a gospel version of a Chinese opera set to the backdrop of an epic, 1970s, outdoor, Californian, psychedelic, rock concert. Condon's paintings move to an atavistic rhythm. Can you hear it? Can you see it?

Condon's seven-panelled painting, This Land Was Made for You and Me, derives its title from the last line to each verse of Guthrie's most renowned song. Originally penned in 1944, 'This Land is Your Land' is a veritable anthem of inclusion. In this case, Condon was aware her 'everyplace' would look out onto the street of Sydney's Redfern. It's long-established demographic of Indigenous Australians, artists, blue collar workers, immigrants from all over the world, and students is threatened, paradoxically, by the very likes of the gallery as the 'hood' becomes gentrified.

In conversation, Condon told me "the landscape is the only thing that can contain everything." My mate, Uncle Max would agree. Uncle Max is an Aboriginal Elder and to be in his orbit is to realise there is no place better than right where you standing. Instead of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people reconciling to each other, Uncle Max speaks of all people reconciling to 'THIS'. When he says the word 'THIS', his eyes roam up to the sky and across the trees while his feet stomp on the ground. If we really see and really hear the "grass, grass, grass, trees, trees, trees, sky, sky, sky" then we are already reconciled to the land and therefore, forever on common ground. Despite of our individual sensory experience, This Land Was Made for You AND Me.

Read more about the artist

Elisabeth Condon