John is a leading figurative landscape painter who is exhibited widely in Australia. He uses unique techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact to find ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.
Back in the mists of time I lived in one of those houses in Katoomba looking right down to the misty Sisters and the Wilderness below.
John’s most recent exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, Midawarra/Harvest, was a collaboration between John and the Aboriginal artist, Mulkun Wirrpanda, a Yolnu elder from Yirrkala, Arnhem land. As Will Stubbs, writing in the exhibition’s beautiful catalogue, published by the National Museum, notes: “John is a charismatic embodiment of gentlemanly courtesy and wry humour, an Australian of aristocratic lineage whose family slew the last English wolf, while Mulkun is a superficially intimidating but soft hearted intellectual whose father was a victim of the frontier wars.” As we know these were perpetuated by the English and their colonialists on the Aboriginal people.
In these two artists’ collaboration their work is revenant tribute to the natural world of Australia, to the myriad individual idiosyncratic forms of that life, each of which has been handed itself on over timeless rebirths, to fill and fulfil its niche in the whole. For John, working alongside Aboriginal artists has been part of his larger metaphysical project in learning how to ‘see’ the Australian landscape. As John says: ‘my whole life’s journey in some way, has been a way to enter into it, and to see it.’ As Stubbs notes, the work of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolesley shows that our world is not fragmented but connected, and that our greatest connection is our shared drive to contemplate our own being in the world.
Freya Mathews is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and an Adjunct Professor of Environmental Philosophy at Latrobe University. Her books include The Ecological Self (1991), Ecology and Democracy (editor) (1996), For Love of Matter: a Contemporary Panpsychism (2003), Journey to the Source of the Merri (2003), Reinhabiting Reality: towards a Recovery of Culture (2005), Ardea: a philosophical novella (2015) and Without Animals Life is not Worth Living (2015).
As Freya notes in her article ‘Thinking from Within the Calyx of Nature’: “Knowing the world, via cosmological stories, was inseparable from invoking its divinity or tapping into its agency. In thinking and knowing in these old ways one remained, first and foremost, an agent within the world negotiating one’s way around it, rather than a spectator, a looker in the mirror that reflected reality.” She notes that the normative wisdom of the sage consisted in the recognition that we cannot reform the world without at the same time reconfiguring our own psychophysical selves as a microcosm of the universe. This is celebrated in the culture of Wudang Mountains in China.
Her current special interests are in ecological civilisation; indigenous (Australian and Chinese) perspectives on “sustainability” and how these perspectives may be adapted to the context of contemporary global society; panpsychism and the critique of the metaphysics of modernity; and wildlife ethics in the context of the Anthropocene.
Freya is currently working on a book exploring the Daoist roots of the eco-civilisation goals, which President Xi Jinping has announced as the next stage of China’s evolution as a global leader. She says it would be a tragic error for China to abandon Dao as its guiding principle in its goal of developing an eco-civilisation.