"Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it"
No location has ever creeped me out as much as this one, and it's for that very reason it's so important to reclaim what it once was. To try and reshape it's horrible history into something more than just a forest of bones.
Over the past month I've ventured into the woods of the Belanglo state forest no less than half a dozen times to create this image. Those familiar with the name will need no further introduction. For the uninitiated, all I will say is that it's notoriety was gained through the heinous crimes committed there in the early 90s.
My Dance with the Macabre
I often talk about my love of chiaroscuro (the play of light and dark) and this painting style plays an integral role in the way I produce the look of my work. My play with light and dark extends beyond a visual style too. Telling a dark story in a hauntingly beautiful way is intended to leave a bittersweet sensation in the viewer, and this is clearly my intent with my latest creation.
Early in my career during the research for my series The Regal Twelve, I like many, became infatuated with the mystery surrounding the execution of the Russian royal family, whose bodies were only located almost a century later amongst the leafy outskirts of Yekaterinburg in southern Russia.
In search of a new location, I found myself wandering through the decaying old pine plantation of Belanglo forest. In truth, it's hard not to feel like you're being observed. That sensation that lifts the hairs on your neck also ignited my imagination with the tales of two influential stories of my past, the predatory fable Little Red Riding Hood and the folklore surrounding the disappearance of Princess Anastasia of the House of Romanov.
Bringing the who, what, where, when & why together.
With the character, location & story in place I'd need to produce a scene to visualise the similarities between them all.
The checklist included; fabricating a red hooded dress, a diamond encrusted Fabergé case depicting Nikolai Romonov, a wolf, and crow like birds.
My love of symbolism made me determined to have a murder of crows in the scene, interacting with my character. Eerily, I haven't heard a single bird out at Belanglo so this would be composite.
Crows are very intelligent and not easily manipulated. So although I spent weeks luring birds into the studio setup in my garden with a smorgasbord of delights, the closest I could capture on camera were the equally beautiful native Currawongs.
Domesticated wolves are neigh impossible to come by (in Australia anyway) thus we look to it's closest relative in appearance the Siberian Husky. Unfortunately unleashed racing huskies are likely to race home to Siberia, so my hunt for a big bad wolf lead me to a cheeky pack of racing huskies that I photographed in a studio setting with lighting that mirrored that of our heroine in the woods.
Lighting the woods
We were about 50km to the nearest power outlet, so we'd need to rely on battery & generator for the lighting. We started with an overhead octa at about 1.5 stops under, our beauty dish would act as our key and two 1x4' strips would lightly separate our subject from the woods. For detailed placement of the lighting check the 360 degree panorama below.
Why documenting your work so important?
After every shoot I like to document the dress that I've created and used on the production. I can't stress this enough to those embarking on creating art for the purpose of exhibition. As a artist you need to establish every decision well in advance, and the best way to do this is by keeping a visual diary, fill it with references to your inspiration and most importantly document your decisions along the way.
Building a series.
People often struggle with the process of building a series of artworks. It’s really challenging to think about the bigger picture well in advance.
Foreseeing the future isn’t for the faint of heart. Planning can seem to take the spontaneity and fun out of being an artist and can make the whole thing seem really daunting. But it’s well worth knowing what the future holds.
Some helpful things to consider when planning a series are: mood-boards / treatments, time-lines, budgets, audience, outcomes, research, themes, locations, costumes, props, sets, hair and makeup artists, gear, sponsorship and the one thing that everyone holds their breath over at that final moment… finding the right model / talent.
This probably sounds like a very commercial way to think about making art, but my experience from doing commercial work has taught me that it’s best to approach your personal work by considering yourself a client with a deadline and a firm budget.
Writing a proposal for your series, like I did for my Master of Fine Arts or any time I’ve exhibited my work in galleries, museums or festivals, I’ve had to submit a proposal. It’s so rewarding because proposals help you consider all of the things I have just mentioned. Proposals develop your ideas.
Why am I making this? Who am I making it for? What am I making? Who am I? Haha, ok maybe not the meaning of life.
Who am I making this work for? You! So thank you for coming on my journey with me in my series Into the Gloaming. Thus far I have introduced you to my story teller who held the book of my stories in Into the Gloaming. My next character Titania led us into the magical world of make-believe as a gate keeper between two worlds in Kissed by the Moon. Now we get our first glimpse of the Grimm Brother’s Little Red Riding hood in Whispers in the Woods.
I hope you enjoy all I have in store for you!
Photography / Postproduction / Costuming: Alexia Sinclair
Video Production: James Hill
Hair / makeup: Sarah Laidlaw
Model: Tallulah Richardson