Flora Obscura

The Brain – is wider than the Sky –
For – put them side by side –
The one the other will contain
With ease – and You – beside
Emily Dickinson

During the months leading up to Melbourne artist Brett Ferry’s solo exhibition, Flora Obscura, the world has watched the Amazon Rain Forests burn, blue waters rise where white ice should be, and dead fish floating in exhausted river systems. These repeated images of Nature in a state of stress, broadcast onto our TV screens and smart phones, confront us with scenes of a world at odds with our preconceived or idealised notion of it. 

For Ferry, who grew up in a semi remote region along the Murray River, it is this intersect between the reality of the landscape and humanities means to understand and affect it that interests him most and forms the central premise behind his process driven practice. Embedded within the hyper-real, almost hallucinatory images he creates sits a conversation about ‘natural forms that in some way have been effected by man’s interference, how they have adapted and survived’ . The snapped and gnarled limbs of the Murray Pine’s Ferry uses as his primary subject serve to initiate a looping dialogue between the physical realities of a vast environment and the inherently interior nature of human perception.

Ferry’s art is thus a twofold endeavour, depicting not only the truth and beauty of nature as it struggles to survive, but also a questioning of the psychology of its reception. Filtering his own experience of landscape through a process of documentation, digital manipulation and eventual painterly reproduction, Ferry aims to ‘create a dialogue between tradition and technology using the tools of our time. In the end the act of painting for me is one of labour, time, struggle and contemplation’ .

While those eventual painterly depictions of native trees and grasses remain more or less accurate, the trace of digital intrusions; marks suggestive of erasure, hard edged scrawls and psychedelic gradient colour fields, disrupt any literal reading of these images, and reinforce the notion that we receive our experiences through a filter of awareness. The artist is in effect creating a secondary space, housing within the physical surface of the canvas, a conceptual field of the human mind. Ferry’s trees and the wild skies behind them become representations of a cognitive event.

The obscuring of ecological issues, be it by mass media distractions or the sheer comforts of a modern lifestyle, has resulted in a lessening effect when confronted with images of landscapes in crisis. Beyond initial feelings of shock, our daily disconnect from the wholeness of nature, along with a ‘contemporary explosion of images saturating our consciousness’  has left us in a perilous position. In a time when we must start to come to terms with the significant impact human activity is having on the stability of our natural environment, images such as Ferry’s encourage a rising awareness of the intersect between perception and reality.

Catalogue essay by Phe Luxford 2019