I WORKED AS part of an ever-changing small team of lighthouse keepers in 1973, on three uninhabited islands off the West Coast of Scotland. I was twenty years old. I spent a lot of time sitting on rocks in the Atlantic. It was on those rocks – some of them quite large islands the size of Uluru, others thin strips of lava chords in the Outer Hebrides – that I constructed some kind of worldview. It was neither utopian nor dystopian. Neither north nor south, Old World or New World. Just global and local. Full of sentient beings. ‘Let’s work together… every boy girl woman and man,’ as the Canned Heat lyrics of the day urged.
As summer comes on, as Australia burns, I spend a lot of my time writing in the wonderful State Library of New South Wales. I am trying to bring together three books of collected art writings, culling forty years of my work. One will be a book on ‘Art in Australia’ from 1990 to 2020. The ‘in’ is important in the title as it allows me to include all the great international exhibitions I have seen across this island continent – many in Australia’s seldom reported on, but always wonderful, regional galleries. A separate book is called Curious About Artists: Encounters With 50 Contemporary Artists. In the introduction I write: ‘The fifty artists you will meet on these pages come from over twenty different countries. But if there seems to be a disproportionate number of Scottish and Australian artists who I’ve encountered, that is a deliberate attempt to redress the usually skewed balance. In Australia especially – and you can tell from the surnames – many of these artists were born overseas, or have European or Asian heritage: Patricia Piccinini, Guan Wei, Jon Cattapan, Laresa Kosloff, Peter Booth, Angelica Mesiti (shown in the Australian Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale), and Mathieu Briand. The Indigenous artists – Tracey Moffatt, Brook Andrew and others – also make work about their mixed heritage… As someone who was born to an Australian mother and a Scottish father I have, from as early an age as I can remember, embraced both countries and their histories as my own, while not always agreeing with all that was done in their name.’
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