‘Awe-inspiring’ might seem like an unusual expression to apply to The Black Summer fires.
For me, awe-inspiring holds a range of meanings, from the breath-taking, to the terrifying, to the truly formidable. This is how I experienced the desolate, burnt landscape driving up the Bells Line of Road, two weeks after the 2019-2020 megafires swept through the Blue Mountains, NSW. I was aghast and knew I was witnessing a moment in history that demanded a creative response.
A year on, this initial astonishment resonated throughout my time in artist residencies at The Old School House, Mt Wilson (Dec 2020) and BigCi (Jan 2021). While on these residencies I had the opportunity to talk with local people and learn about the depth of courage and kindness that binds communities together. I also heard instances of colour and comedy that added levity to brighten difficult times.
It was during one of these conversations a volunteer firefighter mentioned that he’d ‘got pinked.’ Instantly I was struck with curiosity – what did that mean? It was an expression I heard several times – it involves being near, sprayed, or dumped-on by pink fire retardant from aerial firefighting support.
From that point on I introduced the colour pink into many of my artworks. This functioned on numerous layers within this body of work. Initially, I added this hue to entrench story into my drawings and paintings. While appreciating the work does not rely on understanding the significance of my use of colour, it has a distinct purpose in reflecting my concern about the use of pink fire-retardant to fight fires.
My intention here though is not to judge: honestly, if my home was in the fire’s path, I would want it saved too. I am more interested in encouraging thinking about the long-term consequences that fire retardants may have on people, the environment and wildlife; and whether there are other fire management strategies that could improve the impact we have.
Beneficially though, the pink hue added a dimension to my palette that accentuated the magnificent beauty I witnessed in birdlife returning to a scorched land. The absence of the sound and sight of birdlife was pervasive after the fires, and their re-emergence and birdsong expressed a joyful and restorative healing. These colourful glimpses of native birds became beacons of hope and wonder.
I am grateful for the warm welcoming into communities affected by the Black Summer fires and for the many personal accounts people generously shared with me. All of the conversations I had continue to contribute and drive my artistic research about wildfires.