DETAIL : Jeffrey SMART  born 1921 'Wallaroo' 1951  oil on plywood NGA 1959.17  � Jeffrey Smart
Margaret PRESTON | Flying over the Shoalhaven River

PRESTON, Margaret
Australia 1875 – Australia 1963
Germany, France 1904-07, France, England, Ireland 1912-19
Flying over the Shoalhaven River
[Flying over the Shoalhaven]
oil on canvas
50.6 (h) x 50.6 (w) cm
Framed 68.6 (h) x 68.6 (w) x 6.8 (d) cm
signed and dated l.l., pencil "M. Preston/ 1942"
NGA 1973.21
© Margaret Preston. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
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Margaret Preston was used to seeing the earth from the air. By 1942 the artist had visited Europe and North America, and had travelled extensively throughout much of Asia, the Pacific Islands, Central and South America and Australia. During her travels she visited many places and sought out the Indigenous art of other cultures, yet it was the Indigenous art of Australia that inspired her most. Preston travelled extensively throughout remote areas of Australia to see Indigenous paintings and carvings. She studied the collections at the Australian Museum in Sydney and published articles and lectured on Indigenous art.

From 1932 to 1939 Preston lived in the bush at Berowra, close to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney, where her great passion for the natural environment of Australia was reinforced. During the Second World War, Preston, like many others, developed a strong nationalist sentiment and in 1942 published an article titled ‘The orientation of art in the post-war Pacific’. In this article she argued for the development of a ‘National Australian Culture’ through an exchange of ideas between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. She also suggested that Australians should actively exchange ideas with their Asian neighbours.

In Flying over the Shoalhaven River Preston combined her knowledge of Indigenous Australian, Asian and western art with a modernist aesthetic. The linear quality of the composition and the flattened areas of colour reflect her skills in woodblock printmaking. Using an earthy palette of browns, greys and ochres, Preston suggested the bush with dabs and dots of paint. She mirrored the overcast sky in the silvery stretch of river and depicted a number of low-lying clouds casting shadows on the earth. While the aerial perspective displays Preston’s knowledge of Indigenous Australian and Chinese methods of representing the land from above, the experience of flying over the Shoalhaven River was her own.