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Joseph Clarke


To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene,
Where things that own not man’s dominion dwell,
And mortal foot hath ne’er or rarely been;
To climb the trackless mountain all unseen,
With the wild flock that never needs a fold;
Alone o’er steeps and foaming falls to lean;
This is not solitude, ‘tis but to hold
Converse with Nature’s charms, and view her stores unrolled.

But midst the crowd, the hurry, the shock of men,
To hear, to see, to feel and to possess,
And roam alone, the world’s tired denizen,
With none who bless us, none whom we can bless;
Minions of splendour shrinking from distress!
None that, with kindred consciousness endued,
If we were not, would seem to smile the less
Of all the flattered, followed, sought and sued;
This is to be alone; this, this is solitude!

‘Solitude’, Lord Byron, 1788 - 1824


Voyage is a collection of paintings made by Sax Impey since returning last year from a journey by sea from Eastern Australia to Singapore. This physical voyage took him from the Coral Sea through the Torres Strait into the Gulf of Carpentaria, stopping briefly in Darwin. From there, he sailed on across the Arafura Sea into the Timor Sea, sailing on to Bali, then into the Sunda Strait, then northwards past Sumatra to his final destination - a passage through treacherous seas still occupied by pirates, and historically frequented by pioneers on routes of trade and in search of new lands to colonise.

The existential pull of such elements is clear, as Impey states: “21st Century mass communication, the relentless, total, banal, vapid tedium of the seeming need to communicate, or be communicated to, all the time, disappears out there on the ocean. A mind can breathe, and observe, and reflect, away from the shrill desperation of a culture that, having forgotten that it is better to say nothing than something about nothing, invents ever-new ways to fill every single space with less and less. So a certain empathy with earlier travellers ensues: the sea is still the sea, as it ever was, direct and uncomplicated, and the stars are not a great deal older. The specific aroma of an incipient landfall is a shared experience with those who have gone before, as is the bending of a sail to the wind, as is the chart... The sea renews the land, and the possibilities for life, for my life, are renewed, enlarged by the landfall after the sea. The land is better for being arrived at, and I am better for arriving.”

The paintings in this exhibition follow a variety of themes from contemplative paintings of specific areas of ocean, to vast celestial expanses undisturbed in the night sky.

This continues with the ‘Constellation’ series (left and above): works which could be meditative studies of the stars, or the glint of the sun on the ocean, fleeting images that are at the same time perennial, remaining long after the boat has left those waters.

There is also a series of works that incorporate charts and extracts from notebooks. As Impey states: “The chart is a compendium of knowledge, of successive generations of endeavour and experience. I use charts in some of the new work as an acknowledgement of that, and an appreciation of the aesthetic, but most significantly as a personal aide memoir, which combine with logbook notes, painting and photography to provide a specific recollection of time and place.”

The monumental ‘Sumba’ refers to the witnessing of plumes of black smoke rising from the islands coastline, darkening a luminous sky – whether an aboriginal burning of the land, a ritualistic ceremony or a tragic forest fire remains unknown but leaving an indelible impression.

Although Impey has used photography as source material in the past, many of these new works contain an interesting evolution, incorporating the development of a photographic image within the painting process. Self-evident in some works, and entirely obscured in others, the possibilities inherent in the combination have clearly invigorated the artist: “the photograph is not an accurate description of a moment, neither is a painting, nor a memory. But to coalesce these elements within an object, perhaps... it’s a lie to tell a truth.”

Slightly separate yet clearly related are a series of beautiful yet eerie paintings of Orford Ness, a feral and remote island just off the Suffolk coast. In the past the area was used as the site of a secret Cold War military testing ground, and now stands as a phantom that seems all the more to illustrate the impotence of our temporary concerns.

It would be simplistic, albeit understandable, to view these paintings as a record of this odyssey, but for me these are not paintings of the sea, the land or the stars, they are a reflection of man’s insignificance when faced with the awesome and sublime might of nature and the cosmos. They are a personal ‘rite of passage’ that stand, already, as a ghost of what has been witnessed, been and gone, but exist as a monumental human response to the fleetingness of man’s existence.

The voyage is life through to its brief and inevitable but defiant end. To face it, and to live it is to be liberated. As Henry David Thoreau wrote “I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now”.

I am sure that such a journey does much to open your eyes, making you very aware of your place within the cosmic order.