Press Room Details
Gallipoli and Beyond is an exhibition of works on paper by Rachel Fairfax. The artist presents a quiet view of Turkey, with washes of soft colour that create a sense of the still moment. From ancient cities to the mosques of Istanbul, Fairfax reflects the beauty of a country where many histories co-exist.
This is part two of Rachel’s responses to our questions about her experiences in Turkey and creating this body of work.
Gallipoli holds an important place in Australian history, how did you find yourself responding to the site?
My response to the site of Gallipoli was pretty layered with emotion. Since studying about the World Wars in high school Modern History, I was always interested in visiting Gallipoli. My Poppy and his brothers fought in WWII and my Nan talked a lot about war days and the impact of war on her husband, her brothers and the whole family. Poppy eventually died from war related injuries, and my Nan lived as a war widow for the rest of her life.
I had an image in my mind of what Gallipoli would look like from movies and historical images and also from George Lambert’s Gallipoli paintings. It was different to how I anticipated it to be. I expected it to be a landscape of only rocky cliffs and red soil. Now, the landscape there is very green, manicured and tranquil. The steep red cliffs of the Sphinx above ANZAC Cove are the only parts resembling what I had seen in images.
The first site we were taken to by our guide is a small beach called Brighton Beach, where the ANZAC boats were planned to land. Beyond the beach is a flat landscape of dense pine trees and sand, not rocky hills and cliffs like ANZAC Cove where they actually landed. Brighton Beach is a small, simple beach. There’s a quiet wharf that juts out into the ocean and a leaning machine-gun bunker almost falling into the water. This image is quite surreal and it’s the first composition I wanted to paint when I saw it.
Overall, the landscape is pretty and peaceful, yet marked with this machine-gun bunker. I found it to be quite disturbing in its tranquility, because of the hindsight knowledge of where the boats landed, just a few kilometers up the shoreline to the steep and brutal cliffs that were so hard to traverse and ultimately took so many lives. On the days painting at the Gallipoli Peninsula, we had a choice of painting locations. I kept returning to Brighton Beach to paint there. I can’t describe why, but it was important to me to try to paint it and capture that surreal lonely feeling of the place.
Lone Pine was another location higher up on the Gallipoli Peninsula and equally disturbing. The gravestones had names and ages of the soldiers who died there, and the statistics were shocking. The young ages of the men (boys really, from under 18 to early 20’s) who fought and died there brought a lot of emotion, to all of us when we first visited the site. I felt very sad and also angry at the same time.
Some of the artists I was travelling with (Euan Macleod, Idris Murphy and Susan and Peter O’Doherty) have adult children the same age as those on the gravestones and their responses made it more real.
The Nek was also a shocking location. It was surprising to see how narrow this piece of land really is (like a small baseball field) that was fought over between ANZAC and Turkish troops and took so many lives, for nothing in the end…
At Ari Burnu Cemetery, there was a monument with words of forgiveness from the President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to the Australian men who fought at Gallipoli calling them our sons now.
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
This spirit of acceptance and forgiveness I found very moving and brought to me an even greater respect for the Turkish people and their spirituality.
I really didn’t know how to start to paint this whole location and experience. It was a line of beautiful tranquil cemetery and monument locations on the edge of clear turquoise Aegean Sea, yet so layered with gruesome stories and history of lives lost. The whole experience was powerful, impactful, important and reverential. It was the most significant experience in my career up to now, I feel, to travel to and paint in Gallipoli with a group of artists, some of whom are my good friends. Watching how the other older artists took it all in, and talked about how to respond to this place, had a deep impact on me. Being there with artists who I admire and look up to added to the importance of the experience for me. There is so much to work with and I feel like I will be making paintings for a long time from this short but significant experience.
What is your most memorable moment from the expedition?
My most memorable moment from the expedition is painting on site at the Gallipoli Peninsula. I feel I will always remember standing on the beach at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli, right where the ANZAC soldiers landed, painting alongside Elisabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod and Amanda Penrose-Hart, looking up at the cliffs of the “Sphinx”, painting the landscape en plein air.
It was sunny and very windy, and we all had rickety, makeshift tables to work on. I had as many materials as I could carry and what always felt like not enough time to capture such an important view. Being in such an emotional and significant location, working with artists who are senior to me in my career and whom I highly respect; a most memorable moment in my career. I remember the time and I remember the paintings.
It’s my business to sell my paintings, however there are some paintings from this experience that are simply not for sale. The experience was too important for me to sell some of these works.
To be continued…
Rachel Fairfax Gallipoli and Beyond 27 August - 21 September 2013 at Stella Downer Fine Art, 2 Danks St, Waterloo.
To see article with images, please visit the Stella Downer Fine Art blog.