Artists in Residence explore 'landscape' in art

8 August 2012

Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle

Artists in Residence Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle will explore landscape as a gateway to the imagination when they discuss their work with Professor Robyn Ewing on Thursday, August 9. "Into the landscape: a conversation" will see the two artists illustrate their practice with pictures and storytelling at the final event of their residency.

Wheatley, an award-winning author, and Searle, an artist, are both Honorary Associates of the faculty and their artistic enterprise has produced a body of work, both individually and collaboratively, that fits with the faculty's work in the arts in education. Their program comprises a series of interactive workshops, consultations and events that has resulted in a hugely successful second year of the residencies for the faculty.

Wheatley promises the event will feature insights into their artistic processes, as they discuss over 35 years of artistic practice.

Wheatley and Searle gather material for their work by exploring place and landscape, both using their explorations of the real world as a doorway to the imagination.

"My method is to walk into a painting, letting the area itself shape the form and content of the portrayal," Searle explains.

Wheatley crafts her adult novels and picture books by visualising place before characters. She calls her interpretation of the landscape "reading country".

"It is a way of thinking that involves looking at the land, listening to the land, and letting the land itself tell you the story about the people who have lived here."

Two locations, in particular, will featured in the discussion: Sydney's inner-west (which is depicted in a number of Searle's paintings); and the community of Papunya in the Northern Territory. Wheatley and Searle worked as consultants at the Papunya school between 1997 and 2001. It was there that they became influenced by the Indigenous principles of education.

"We are always hearing about the importance of literacy and numeracy, and it is true that everyone needs to be able to read the alphabet and the numbers," says Wheatley, "However, we also need to learn to read our own country… that part of Australia where we grow up and develop our identity."

In 2005 Wheatley and Searle used the Papunya model of education as their inspiration when they ran an innovative Harmony project with children from Muslim, Catholic and state schools in Sydney's south-west. They complied the results into a picture book entitled Going Bush.

Professor Ewing hopes that 'Into The Landscape' will trigger, in attendees, a new way of thinking about their relationship with place.

"Place is incredibly important to Nadia's writing and Ken's painting. I hope to provide a starting point to enable them to share with others its centrality in their work."

She says the faculty is "privileged" to have Wheatley and Searle as this year's Artists in Residence. They have given a number of lectures and workshops over the course of the year, of which "Into the Landscape" is the last.

Wheatley describes the role as "a wonderful opportunity to be able to work with committed staff and students of the Faculty of Education and Social Work."