Root & Branch – the Trees of Brown Valley

Exhibition: August 21 to September 17 (Exhibition opening: Sunday August 21 from 2-5pm)
Moreton Bay Fig Study -   Malcolm Pettigrove - pen drawing

Moreton Bay Fig Study - Malcolm Pettigrove - pen drawing

Artist’s statement

I draw trees because I can. And because I so often find myself in admiration of the way they deal with their lot.

A tree has no option. It has to be the tree its seed requires. Where-ever the seed falls, that’s the earth the tree has to grow from, for life. That’s it – that, and the weather, and the coming of fire, and whether it’s alone or in company. And what results is so often so beautiful that the impact of it leaves me also with no option. I draw what I feel about what I’ve seen a thousand thousand times without ever having seen the same thing twice – the beauty in the shapes life takes when trees are what it takes shape in.

Not that the beauty is Classical or Romantic in any sense. The beauty I can’t help but celebrate is in a tree’s unpredictability, its contortions and contrivances and asymmetries, in the ways it wears the marks of battles survived or shows the effects of deep soil, fair weather and sufficient rain – and in its evident determination not to die.

Sometimes I draw the earth the trees have grown from. Brown Valley is that earth.

No people in Brown Valley. Brown Valley is before history. The people live somewhere else in another time.

Brown Valley is my own invented location. It’s a combination of all the places I grew fond of and familiar with before I got tangled up in bloody old adulthood.  Clearwater Creek runs from high up on the Great Divide down to the coast.  The real coast makes a big, long curve from Merimbula all the way round to Inverloch.  There’s a bit of the high country between Cooma and Kosciusko in there, too.

Tara Valley is the mystic heart of it all. I may never be able to draw what I feel about Tara Valley.  The Black Snake Range is easier to draw. Partly, I suspect, because that’s where I was the night I woke up with a leach inside my mouth. That part of the landscape has a permanent, irremovable place in my sensual imagination.

Not everything I draw belongs in Brown Valley. There are some desert stretches in my head as well.  They’ll come out in due course I expect.  We’ll see.

Brief Bio

Malcolm is an ex-Dandenong boy. He has travelled broadly in Australia, has lived for various lengths of time in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, and abroad in Oxford, Shanghai and Hong Kong. His art has been most richly affected by his early experiences as a scout hiking and camping in the Dandenongs and the Gippsland bush, and his later years as a teacher in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The Chinese influence on his work is not difficult to see. The red “chops” under his drawings were given to him by his Shanghai students. One of the “chops” – the one on the left – has two characters in it. They say “Xiao Ling”, meaning “little forest”. The other one has a number of characters in it. The students told him these characters expressed their feelings for him as a teacher. He says he has never been brave enough to get it translated into English, but he uses it as part of his signature as an artist out of gratitude for what the students taught him – about their art, among many other things.

Malcolm’s drawings hang on many people’s walls but this is his first public black-ink exhibition. He has exhibited once before. He and his brother Graham and their father Cedric filled Canberra’s Albert Hall with oil paintings and watercolours back in 1985. The day job has intervened sorely since then, but now, it seems, a better balance has finally been achieved.

Morton Bay Study 65 - pen drawing - Malcolm Pettigrove

Morton Bay Study 65 - pen drawing - Malcolm Pettigrove


Malcolm Pettigrove at work

Malcolm Pettigrove at work

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