“The invisible speaks to us, and the world it paints takes the form of apparitions; it awakens in each of us that yearning for the marvelous and shows us the way back to it – the way that is the great conquest of childhood, and which is lost to us... Perhaps we have seen the Emerald City in some faraway dream... Entering by the gate of the Seven Colors, we travel along the Rainbow.”
Alice Rahon, Shapeshifter, translation Mary Ann Caws (New York: NYRB, 2021)
The surrealist poet and painter Alice Rahon believed that art making is a form of conjuration. That like shamans, sibyls and wizards, the artist humbly mediates between invisible forces and the material world and awakens a ‘yearning for the marvelous’ that disappeared with childhood. In this exhibition, Lynda Draper conjures the dreamlike memories of childhood road trips, and invites us to ‘travel along the Rainbow’. Lovingly crafted by her father, these family road trips of the 1960s and 70s carried the young children all across Australia. To this day, Draper remembers the thrill of anticipation in the lead-up to these journeys that promised to rupture the fabric of ordinary life. The three kids were bundled up, cheek by jowl in the backseat of a Holden station wagon, and with a trailer towed behind, they would drive all night by the light of a drifting moon.
The next morning when the darkness lifted, a strange new world and the promise of adventure awaited the children. The kaleidoscopic vistas of the Australian landscape must have felt like an extension of their dreams. Along the rainbow they visited tropical rainforests, snow-tipped peaks, red deserts, and the Emerald Cities of coral-rich coastlines. They would touch million- year-old mineral deposits transformed, as if by magic, into luminous thunder eggs and geodes, or in caves, the slippery prongs of stalagmites and stalactites. Along the highway, colossal roadside monuments punctuated their journey and added to the vernacular of dream: lobster, guitar, pineapple, prawn, mango, koala, banana. Draper particularly loved the quirky local museums that made private obsessions public business, such as the long-gone Queensland oddities Santa Land (Currumbin), and the House of Bottles (Tewantin).
As a schoolteacher, Draper’s father never missed an opportunity to open up the world beyond what was taught in their schoolbooks. Through contact with Indigenous communities, he engaged his children with alternative knowledge practices, and through surreal natural wonders such as termite mounds, he encouraged their curiosity. On those holidays he was the Wizard of Oz. Not so much the Wizard of Frank Baum’s books, who was a Nebraskan conman with a god complex, but an ordinary person who loomed large in the imagination of his children. And insofar as they are both conjurers, Draper follows in his footsteps. Across generations, they remedy the paucity of everyday life by enchanting it. This was also the surrealists’ mission: to embrace the revelatory nature of the marvellous, which could alter sensibility and with it, the world. As her father creeps toward a century on the planet, Draper’s Drifting Moon acknowledges how these marvellous adventures transformed her modes of seeing, doing and being.
The ceramic sculptures of Drifting Moon allude to these early childhood reveries. The stems of Draper’s hand-pinched and pulled Paperclay evoke the interlaced tendrils of a rainforest canopy, or equally, the uncanny, waxen corporeality of stalactites. The vivid baubles that seem to float amongst these tendrils suggest the flash of tropical fish as they weave between coral reefs and seaweed, or oysters and anemone nourished by tides. Walking laterally along Draper’s wall works, or encircling her sculptures also creates an undulating kinetic effect that parallels the rhythmic cadence of underwater tidal movements. These allusions to natural phenomena in the ceramics of Drifting Moon are fragmentary and ephemeral, they pass in and out of focus like a mirage. In this sense they are like childhood memories: oneiric and too slippery to grasp for more than a moment, and yet robust enough to be forever impressed in one’s mind. In contrast to photographic archives, memories return at the most inconvenient times, with the smell of home-cooked baking or the touch of wool. They return impure and entangled and just as intoxicating as the day they were born. I suspect this is why the evocative nature of memory is so suited to her ceramics, which are simultaneously fragile and resilient, porous to myriad associations and water-tight vessels of meaning.
Anaïs Nin famously said that ‘We see the world not as it is, but as we are’, and Draper’s collection certainly invites pareidolia, the very human tendency to impose personal meaning onto nebulous phenomena. They are hallucinatory in their openness to association, and their organic, primordial forms call to mind the suspended worlds of Joan Miro, or the amoebic constellations of Jean Arp’s friezes. Because Miro and Arp’s floating realms allude to the world without being anchored in it, they are similarly open to interpretation and imaginative projection. As surrealists, they dispensed with the Western tradition of using Euclidean geometry – grids – to render a precise illusion of the outside world, instead their abstract universes attempted to reconcile representation with perception. Like many twentieth century avant-gardes, they were influenced by Henri Bergson and phenomenology in recognising that the world cannot be quantified rationally. According to Bergson, the world is not perceived as a frozen, isolated snapshot, nor is all sense experience assigned the same value. On the contrary, because time and space are lived and embodied, they should be measured creatively, through intuition and experience.
Draper’s drifting worlds acknowledge the instability of memory, the vagaries of perception, and the transitory quality of nature. Drifting Moon conjures the memories of childhood and honours the wizardry of parenting. The road trips around Australia may be hers alone, but through this marvellous collection, we travel along her rainbow.