Creating worlds

Dates + times

23 February - 4 August 2013
Open 10.00 am – 5.00 pm every day




Recorded information +61 2 6240 6501
General information +61 2 6240 6411
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Image detail above: Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula Big water Dreaming at Kalipinypa 1971synthetic polymer paint on composition board National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased 1993-1996

Gallery of works

Creating worlds explores artists’ responses to issues of sustainability and the natural environment. The exhibition presents a diverse selection of art from the national collection including sculpture and mixed media, paintings, prints and photographic works, all of which are linked by their ability to evoke the distinctive beauty and peculiarities of the Australian landscape. They capture the paradoxical nature of this environment its harshness and abundance, its resilience and fragility, and the way we see our landscape as both familiar and strange.

The artists featured in Creating worlds have engaged with and explored the landscape in ways that are respectful and sustainable. Together, they emphasise three main ideas. Firstly, that the relationship of humanity to the environment is not only one of providing physical resources and sustenance. It has social and spiritual dimensions too, and practising sustainability means nurturing these connections. Secondly, many of the artists show our planet as a dynamic living system, a ‘circle of life’ in which everything is connected and upon which our smallest actions can make an impact, both negatively and positively. Finally, the exhibition aims to show that sustainability is not just a theory, but can inform art practice too, as those artists who are collectors, researchers and recyclers demonstrate.

Audiences of all ages are invited to enjoy this exhibition and to consider the creative possibilities for looking after and interacting with our environment.

Themes, focus works and activities

Water is vital for all forms of life on Earth. Life flourishes around the planet’s oceans and rivers and when water becomes scarce, whole species and communities can be placed under threat. Many of the works of art in this room remind us of the fundamental importance of water to nurturing culture and community, as well as basic survival.

Michael Riley’s photograph captures the timeless beauty of water. The desert paintings of Shorty Jangala Robertson and Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula show the role of water in Aboriginal spirituality and the ancestral stories of their people’s country. Mark Boyle and Joan Hills have created another kind of image of the Australian desert – a slice of barren earth that emphasises the absence of water. Arthur Wicks's digital print shows his home town of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales, as the centre of a patchwork world of dry pastures and shimmering heat, threaded together by the dark green coil of the Murrumbidgee River.

William Robinson
Creation landscapes I – III and Rainforest

William Robinson presents a unique vision of the Australian landscape. It is often pictured from multiple perspectives as though we are looking through a kaleidoscope. Mountains, forests and vast skies merge together, linked by flowing water and shafts of sunlight. Robinson’s art shows our environment as a dynamic system in which all natural elements are connected.

Can you find the different types of plants and animals in these prints? How might they be connected to each other?

John Wolseley
Botanist's camp

John Wolesley has explored Australia’s natural environment intimately. He camps alone in the bush and outback for months at a time, making art and recording the features of the landscape in scientific detail. Sometimes he even buries his art and returns to it later, finding that wildlife, plants and the seasons have all left their mark. Wolesley has a deep knowledge of Australian history, geography and the natural sciences, and his work expresses this fascination with the natural world.

Look closely and you will see a personal inscription on this print. What does it say and what does it tell you about the artist’s worldview?

Fiona Hall Pandanus - Gunga 2010 intaglio etching National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased with the assistance of Susan Armitage 2011

Ruby Davies
Water as life: The town of Wilcannia and the Darling / Baaka, 20 August 2007

Ruby Davies grew up in outback town of Wilcannia on the Darling River in New South Wales. For this photograph a group of Wilcannia townspeople came together to stand along the dry riverbed. The artist has been documenting this river system for some time and sees it as a symbol of environmental degradation, and of current and historical struggles for control over water and land.

Why do you think the artist invited the community to stand on the riverbed, rather than creating the same effect using a computer program?

Robert MacPherson
15 Frog Poems: Double Drummer (Creek Song), for Bob Brosnan

Robert Macpherson has made many works of art with the title of ‘Frog Poem’. This one is a simple arrangement of found objects and text, with words that look exotic and strange. They are the Latin names of different kinds of native frogs common in subtropical Queensland, where the artist spent his childhood. Frogs are an important part of many ecosystems and their presence is a sign that the environment is healthy. The rusty corrugated iron is a familiar sign of human presence in the Australian landscape. Both natural and manmade elements suggest the profound impact of place and environment in shaping our memories.

The title of this sculpture refers to sound and language – ‘frog poem’, ‘double drummer’ and ‘creek song’. How does this make the landscape come alive?

Mavis Ngallametta
Ghost net basket with beach thong and sea life

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost or abandoned. They drift alone in the world’s oceans, trapping and destroying precious marine life along the way. Mavis Ngalametta recycles ghost nets using weaving techniques learned from her family and community in the Aurukun Wetlands on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland. Coastal and marine species are important to the people of this area. Removing ghost nets from the water and putting them to better use is an expression of the artist’s environmental stewardship, or ‘caring for country’.

What other things do human beings leave behind in the earth’s oceans and rivers? Find another example of weaving in this exhibition. How is this basket different?

Gunybi Ganambarr

This work shows the ancestral Lightening Snake rising from its watery home in the floodplains of eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. It depicts freshwater meeting saltwater and the start of the wet season, which the Snake announces by spitting lightening across the sky. The artist has painted on recycled insulation cell, instead of the more traditional tree bark, giving a fresh new beauty to old materials.

Here white cross-hatched lines shimmer like sunlight on water. Can you find any other works of art in the National Gallery of Australia that are painted with these designs?