Imprint Vol. 43 No. 2, Winter 2008

Natural Wonders

Dr. Ann Stephen

Curator, Power House Museum, Sydney

In Natural Wonders Bruce Latimer imagines a parallel world to that of the reigning corporate aesthetic of 21st century culture. All his wonders originate in the backyard of the city where nature tenaciously cohabits with modernity – across the skyscrapers, highways, parks and everyday appliances of urban life – in the present age of turbo-charged capitalism.

There is much fecundity and abundance with swarms of birds and beasts, including those scavengers of our garbage, the not-so-sacred ibis. In Vast Numbers each ‘tip turkey’ as they are unkindly known, is literally counted and tagged with a number until they peter out as distant dots. Significantly Latimer’s aerial point of view is seen through the dark foreground outline of other birds and branches. From this ungrounded bird’s eye perspective the land stretches out below, with no horizon line, its limits only marked by wires and the endless lines of cars in a parking lot.

Sometimes Latimer’s study of the urban jungle takes a lyrical turn, as when the dense undergrowth on the shoreline parts to reveal the distant mirage of Utzon’s dazzling sails. Even this limpid harbour view is seen through the wild untamed strokes of eucalyptus and crowned by a dark fertile club - that of a termite’s nest. Elsewhere Latimer turns to the gentler ironies of his iconic early dog and garden hose print, as plugged-in wind-farms bristle the needles of sheoaks. Or in Sunbeam a pair of budgies pose against the curved lines of the electric frypan. Even Harry Seidler’s MLC mushroom in Tenuous Connection, is plugged into a Sunbeam as domestic modernity is improbably linked to the International Style through a very long and sinuous line. Other prints are more like apparitions, representing strange uncanny effects of nature in the city. A background colour roll plays off natural and artificial light amid the languorous limbs of a ghostly gum in Moon Light. A tree is coupled with rocks in Aggregate, as the grand Georgian sandstone edifice that sign of colonial architecture and settlement, stands as a mute witness to origins in the rock/tree implosion. A Bat Amongst the Pigeons, marks their aerial passage over the now demolished Mayan-looking incinerator of the Griffin’s.

Latimer’s etched line, whether representing a cord, a hose, an electric wire or an engineering cable can also inscribe a grand urban vision. In his deceptively titled Growth Plan the view spans one of those achingly beautiful inlets of Sydney Harbour that have mesmerised successive generations of white artists from the First Fleet on, through Arthur Streeton to Lloyd Rees and his many acolytes. Yet in this print the colour of water is pitch black and confined on all sides by man-made incursions. The far shore-line is marked by one of the harbour’s abandoned industries - White Bay power station – now dwarfed by the vast new concrete span of Anzac Bridge and framed by a Meriton high rise apartment tower. Latimer’s point of view is redolent with loss being drawn at the site of the now demolished incinerator of the Griffin’s which until the 1990s crowned the cliffs overlooking Black Wattle Bay. So the utopian visions of the twentieth century now lie buried under a developer’s plan and this could be any city, from Melbourne to Moscow.

Yet, and this is the revenge of the artist, in the pale glow of light the massive geometry of engineering is seen to be overrun by vegetative life, and turned into a ruin. Architecture is returned to nature as stalagmites drip from floor to floor of the apartment block and each taut engineering cable is lassoed by a wilder line of vine. The new is made to look old as the concrete segment on the bridge deck supports a dense rainforest and its vast A-frame towers are covered in vegetation. In imagining the present as a ruin Latimer meets that most illustrious of etchers, Giovanni Battista Piranesi who represented the city in ruins at the very beginnings of modernity.

Tenuous Connection

Bruce Latimer Tenuous Connection 2004, etching (ed. 20), 44 x 49 cm

Vast Numbers

Bruce Latimer Vast Numbers 2004, etching (ed. 20), 49 x 67 cm

Growth Plan

Bruce Latimer Growth Plan 2005, etching (ed. 15), 89 x 69 cm