An image burnt into the Australia psyche

BUSHFIRES have loomed large in the Australian psyche since colonisation, but while a blackened, desolate landscape is the enduring image, Perth artist Nigel Hewitt has been finding a new beauty among the ashes.

Hewitt has used ash from bushfires in WA and Tasmania to create monochromatic portraits of contemporary Australia that he says shows the fragility of the landscape.

Hewitt says he first started experimenting with ash in 2012.

• Hewitt’s ash art looks from a distance like a photograph, until you draw closer and see it’s built as if with pixels made from ash.

Pools of ash

“I was riding through the John Forest National Park after a big fire up there and I just wanted to view what the fire had actually done and found these extraordinary pools of ash,” he says.

“When the carbon is completely burnt out of the ash, it goes this very white colour, very powdery, and there’s many variations between that and the actual charcoal.

“So I thought I must take this ash and do something with it.”

Six year later, Hewitt says he still finds ash enormously challenging to work with.

“It’s incredibly difficult—there’s all sorts of problems applying it.

“It’s got to be done in an environment where there is no wind, obviously, because it can just disappear.

If there’s a sneeze I can lose days of work”.

Hewitt was born in Tasmania and his new exhibition Recinder is a surreptious nod to the environmental issues there.

“If you walk into the gallery you’ll notice that the works are quite photographic and it’s the reality of the image that draws you to them,” he says.

“But as you walk up to the surface, the reality completely disappears, and you’re left with this surface of ash.

“It represents what can happen in a landscape when fire goes through”.

Recinder is at Gallery Central, on Aberdeen Street in Perth, from April 30 to May 19.

Hewitt will also give an artist talk at the Gallery on Saturday May 5.

by MICHAEL ROBERTS 

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