Danie Mellor, artist, Life in Irons

The 'landspace' is an ideal way of exploring an ongoing set of cultural narratives around our land story ...

Danie Mellor is undoubtedly one of the most creative and visionary contemporary Australian artists. Refusing to be pigeonholed, Danie has acclaimed created work across numerous mediums for the past three decades, drawing inspiration from deep well of creative sources. This year, Danie contributed works to the Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition Life in Irons. The exhibition offers insight into daily life in the settlement using original documents, personal accounts, historical objects and contemporary art, and is on display until the end of October. We had a chat with Danie to discuss his art practice, early inspirations, thoughts on landscapes and his contributed work for Life in Irons.

Take us back to the beginning of your artistic journey! What was your first memorable encounter with the world of art?
When I was about 5 years of age, I recall we had a postcard of a self-portrait by the Renaissance artist Raphael that he painted in 1506. I took custodianship of it as I was certain we were friends, and that image has always been with me. I still have it – it has travelled with me all over the world. It was probably because of that painting that I believed art and artists could touch the world in a unique kind of way.

Throughout your youth you lived in a variety of countries including Australia, Scotland and South Africa. How did this upbringing shape your worldview and artistic development?
I always felt there were different places to explore and experience; Stirling Castle could even be described as one of my first playgrounds, as we lived at the bottom of Castle Hill when I was younger. Having travelled so extensively, it became clear there was always more to see and I enjoy that immensely, but I realised as well there really is no place like home. 

You’ve produced work in different media, including printmaking, drawing, painting and sculpture. What do you enjoy most about being able to work across a range of artistic disciplines?
Working across mediums offers scope for exploring different ways of speaking about themes and ideas. At the moment I am really focused on image making using photography and also works on paper, as they offer a range of possibilities and approaches in bringing my research and interests to exhibition.

Throughout your career to date, what kinds of topics and themes have proved to be the most creatively fertile?
Landscape and its histories are fascinating, or as I have recently been exploring, the landspace. I am really interested in how a revaluation of a western canon of landscape might propose a philosophical standpoint that includes indigenous and western perspectives. The landspace is an ideal way of exploring an ongoing set of cultural narratives around our land story.

You’ve contributed work to Museum of Brisbane’s latest exhibition Life in Irons – what drew you to the concept behind the exhibition?
The invitation from Renai Grace, the museum’s director, to contribute was very attractive. Renai has been very supportive of my work, and gave me a great deal of freedom to interpret the exhibition theme in the commissioned work. When an institution provides that kind of opportunity, it is a very appealing environment to work in.  

What can you tell us about your contribution to the exhibition and its conceptual direction?
The work contemplates the natural environment and ecology of the Brisbane area and climate, and acknowledges the presence of people here prior to colonisation of the space. I was quite interested in how an image might begin to convey a sense of beauty, but also how it could suggest an unknown world with an edge of mystery.

What would you hope audiences take away from experiencing this Life in Irons first hand?
I would hope the exhibition as a whole helps to give unique historical and cultural insight into that particular era of Brisbane and the surrounding region, and I am confident it does. It’s a landmark exhibition, and one I was really pleased to be able to contribute work to.

What are you currently finding inspiring about the world around you?
Planning my next body of work, and considering how audiences might receive that. It will be shown in London next year, and hopefully here as well. I will exhibit pieces I am developing around themes of the ‘landspace’; audiences here are receptive to the nuances of history, and I’m looking forward to introducing some of those concepts abroad.

You can view Danie’s work at the Museum of Brisbane for Life in Irons until Sunday October 28.


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