Belle Ile

19/09/2019 - 05/10/2019

Luke Sciberras
Pinnacles between, Belle Ile


oil on board

160.00 x 240.00 cm


Belle Ile

Luke Sciberras | Belle Ile


There are particular locations that hold an almost mythical significance in the history of Australian landscape painting, paradoxically one of them is off the coast of Brittany in France. Iconic paintings have been wrestled and wrested in the wild winds there by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and most formatively for me, John Peter Russel, an Australian painter who set off from Sydney with his mate Tom Roberts in 1883 on a grand adventure that was to last the main part of Russel’s lifetime and would change the trajectory of Western painting. This may sound as dramatic and extreme as the Belle Ile coast itself but in fact any art historian will attest to the notion that Henri Matisse’s use of colour was directly influenced by Russell at Belle Ile and in a pivotal way.

Vincent van Gogh held his dear Australian friend as a maverick painter and in no sense of ‘school-of’ Impressionist. The great Rodin would always champion Russell as a pioneer artist and close friend and no other painter at the time stitched so many threads of perception across the equator as Russell did.

From the time of my mid-teens, I have been captivated by the enlivening contribution that John Peter Russell has made to the storybook of landscape painting, and most singularly the remarkable life he created in a landscape of glisten and gloom.

I remember asking the obliging staff at the Art Gallery of New South Wales to allow me private tours of the works held in racks down in the story rooms, and it struck me then as a great injustice that these works that still fizzed with colour and energy were languishing with the old brown chestnuts from the mid-twentieth century. There, I was able to see brilliant windows into a world of friendships and glorious days in the landscape, of travels and stillness; the stories of Russell’s family life, paintings, children, seasons and elements seemed to almost become personal memories of my own, as do the well-deserved chapters of a favourite novel.

Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I could actually go there, it seemed to me to be a floating world that the gods of painting took with them and left only the paintings behind, but the beaches do shatter with pebbles as every wave retreats and the abrasive rocks are there resisting the ever heaving tides. To have been there and seen the sea foam pouring and spilling off the boulders and the turquoise water swell into the dark caves of Belle Ile was as surreal as visiting a film set you feel you know so well: but in fact there, in front of you and all around you is the thrill of the real thing. There are vast flat meadows of tiny flowers, sudden plunging cliffs and a sea that takes long deep breathes: a magical world that is various and conflicted.

To make an attempt at drawing and painting such a place is at first incredibly daunting: where does one look, or start? But as in any landscape the moment one stops, there is the subject blinking at you. As in the central Australian desert or the vast coast of the Kimberley, Gallipoli or any powerful landscape, the challenged is to harness an energy; some spirit that comes back with you to the studio, to slough the coating of expectations and anticipation and immerse the imagination into the moment. A mark appears, then another and for months to come there are a series of small studies, like found objects, which inform something with flesh, that is gestated over time.

The urgency of the ‘notes to self’ plein air works, gives way to a series of layered and painterly versions of a memory, rather a painting ‘about’ a place than an image ‘of’ one. In the studio, memories of Belle Ile’s geology, geography, climate and tone come in to mind and without the distraction of gusty winds or screeching gulls the process of applying paint and time develop their own energy and each of the works here are my reflection of that trip, from within, out sideways.
Above and beyond my sentimental notions of Russell and his work, I found my own subject there, I feel, a place that gives and gives to a painter in that there are more textures, veils, lines and shapes there than anyone could possible harvest in a lifetime. The jagged cliffs are as unforgiving and unfriendly as oyster shells or cow’s teeth with waving zigzags of silvery scouring stone, but they vanish down into azure and emerald waters that have a menacing caress all their own. Only Russell or the local Belle Ileois could possible navigate those inlets and caves in boats designed for their own habitat. The sea, ‘the briny’ as Russell called it, would be his pulse, his life-force. Having learned it in Sydney Harbour, lived it on Belle Ile and in full circle died by it at his native Sydney Harbour, it seems to have been truly in his blood, a constant and his pictures seem to be painted with a brush dipped in the sea.

Here in there works of mine, a new inflection flings the story along and buoyed by friendships this exhibition sends a handshake across the borders of time and the hemispheres.

Over the last ten years Euan Macleod and I have travelled and painted together alongside some of the great landscapes of the world. To visit places like Gallipoli, Broken Hill, the Flinders Ranges, the Western Front, Italy and most recently Belle Ile is always a tremendous privilege but added to that is the invigorating friendship I share with Euan who just happens to be one of my favourite artists.

We share a restlessness and a passion for capturing the energy of the moment, the things about a landscape that can’t be photographed. Making works directly in the landscape is an itch that has to be scratched and there’s an urgency about that instinct that we share. We have become quite close and talk a lot in between times, casting an eye over works in progress in each other’s studios which is one of the greatest benefits of having fellow artists as close friends. Seeing Euan works at Belle Ile (or in any landscape) is as fascinating as seeing a famous scientist visiting a great wilderness, or like freeing a creature into its native habitat; he is a natural artist who has the elements of nature in his arm.




By Appointment
Tuesday - Friday
11:00AM - 5:30PM
11:00AM - 4:00PM


Scott Livesey Galleries
610 High Street, Prahran
Victoria, Australia, 3181
+613 9824 7770