Breathing in Mountains exhibition a breath of fresh air

If you made a bucket list, would it include visits to all the natural world heritage sites in Australia? Do you even know where to find all the world heritage sites? For award winning artist Nicola Moss, whose art practice focuses on observing and interpreting the ecology of landscapes, it was an idea that grew from an outing to a world heritage area not far from her bush studio and home.

“I visited Springbrook National Park, a world heritage site, and I felt really bad that I had never been there before even though it is so close to home,” says Moss. “I’ve never been one for a bucket list. I’ve never thought I needed to jump out of a plane or go bungee jumping or any of that kind of stuff. I kind of avoided the whole idea but I thought this is definitely for me.”

Nicola Moss, Amidst the cool air of Ballroom Forest (Cradle Mountain). Image courtesy Salt Contemporary.

After conducting some research she learnt Australia has over 300 national parks and twelve natural world heritage listed sites.  “The idea was to visit all the National Parks but there are hundreds of them and I don’t know if I could cope with that, so now my bucket list is to visit all the natural world heritage areas.”

She has managed to visit three of them over the past 12 months and plans to visit more next year. And every time Moss encounters a new landscape and sees its unique ecology for the first time, she approaches it with ‘fresh eyes’ and develops a body of work in response to it.

“It is such a great way to find new subject matter, new ideas and a whole new visual experience,” says Moss.

Nicola Moss, In the flow – Dove River, diptych. Image courtesy Salt Contemporary.

In February this year, Moss went trekking in the wilderness of the unique Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair national park. She developed a series of contemporary paintings inspired by the stunning beauty of this world heritage listed site and these are now on show in her solo exhibition Breathing in Mountains at Salt Contemporary Art in Queenscliff. The works reflect the artist’s experience of being immersed in the natural world. Tranquil reflective pools, unusual plant formations and soaring mountain peaks feature in this new body of work which encompass her interest in environmental conservation.

“The paintings in Breathing in Mountains really focus on the natural aspects and beauty of the conserved area. It is very positive,” says Moss. “Each of the paintings reflects on an experience I encountered during the walks. I am trying to capture how I felt in that place, the feeling of it.”

Field trips are an important part of Moss’s artistic practice where she can directly observe and interpret the ecology of a specific area.

“I think it is really important to have been to these places and actually experience them,” she says. “Being there and having those experiences really informs the work. You’ve got memories of that experience. I like to sit there and take it in. As my works are based on direct observation, I only paint things I have seen or experienced so these trips are very important for development and inspiration.”

Nicola Moss, Silver Linings Morning Light (Cradle Mountain), diptych. Image courtesy Salt Contemporary.

Every site is defined by its own ecosystem and topography, and these characteristics present different artistic challenges. Moss says painting the Cradle Mountain environment posed a dilemma: how to convey the majestic vistas afforded from the soaring summits, but also the diverse range of miniature plant life found on the windswept slopes. “It’s a place where you have those grand views where you can see the distance so far, yet the flora is tiny, microscopic even, with all the little alpine flowers, lichens, mosses and ground covers. You’ve got this tiny world and then this grand view, so trying to find a way to incorporate those was a challenge.”

Moss employs a fresh and imaginative approach to the age-old genre of Australian landscape painting. Rather than depicting a conventional picturesque landscape, Moss uses layering techniques, multiple views and different scales to create a contemporary interpretation of the environment, successfully embracing the macro and the micro.

Nicola Moss, Breathing in Mountains.
Image courtesy Salt Contemporary.

This year Moss has also travelled to other parts of Australia in pursuit of her art. She completed an artist residency at BigCi near Wollemi National Park in the world heritage listed area of the Blue Mountains, and another at the highly regarded Hill End studio. In both residencies Moss engaged with local communities to explore how the landscape has been impacted in different ways – whether it be by industry, conservation projects or climatic conditions.

And in between the trips, Moss has received some well earned recognition. She won the Moreton Bay Region Art Award, and was shortlisted for both the Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize and the Geelong Contemporary Art Prize.

Moss is travelling from Queensland to Queenslciff this weekend for the exhibition opening where she will give an artist talk at 2pm. This will be followed by opening drinks at 2.30pm.

You can find out more about Moss’ work on her blog and more images of her work on Salt Contemporary’s website.

Breathing in Mountains
23 November to 14 December 2012
Salt Contemporary Art, 33-35 Hesse St, Queenscliff.

Nicola Moss, Life on the waters edge – Artists Pool. Image courtesy Salt Contemporary.

Diamonds in My Eyes – Nicola Moss (2011)


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