Live on, survive, for the earth gives forth wonders. It may swallow your heart, but the wonders keep on coming. You stand before them bareheaded, shriven. What is expected of you is attention. – SALMAN RUSHDIE
Vyvian Wilson, Island Blazing, mixed media on canvas triptych.
Clifton School of Arts remains an under-recognised treasure in the Northern Illawarra, despite many high-quality exhibitions being held there over the past several years. As a result of the current Committee’s decision to boost the profile of this cultural venue, the CSA’s own inaugural exhibition Feeling the Heat has been born.
Curators and artists Vyvian Wilson and Ruth Harvey have populated the beautiful, light-filled space with the works of 19 invited artists. It’s a good strong mix of ideas and expressions; an evocative and sensitively hung show with some lovely rhythms and punctuation.
The ground floor space includes some works that appear light-hearted in approach but serious enough in message. David Rowe’s political cartoon afr cartoon 2014 shows a lewdly winking Tony Abbott with his pants most definitely on fire, bending over obligingly for big business, who light their cigars from the conflagration.
Lizzie Buckmaster-Dove, Life and Its Marvels, The Natural Balance of Life 2013.
Lizzie Buckmaster-Dove’s Life and Its Marvels, The Natural Balance of Life brings us shapes cut out from a 1960s children’s encyclopedia. We can see the book; the cut-out shapes (based on small plastic items of rubbish) ands scraps of text. We gather from the imagery that what is being described are natural environments and biodiversity. We can’t make out more than a few words at a time; we gain an impression only, but are left with a sense of loss (Glenn Albrecht’s ‘solastalgia’ – a sense of loss for a changed environment that once provided solace.) 
This downstairs area has a kind of grumpy guardian spirit overlooking the proceedings – Alannah Dreise’s King of Green. This dominating figure, arms akimbo, was inspired by an actual theatrical character seen at local Festivals. There is a connection, though, to the ancient Pagan tradition of the “Green Man” – a pre-literary deity, the personification of all that is living, green and sacred. How appropriate that the King greets us early in a show which contains so many works expressing ecological concerns.
Alannah Dreise, King of Green.
The temperature rises as we climb the stairs. Damian Bancks’ collage Simmer till ready is a densely convoluted, almost woven field of collage, which seems somehow to radiate heat. Its sibling, Heat of the moment, stands at the other end of the room; I see here an echo of our green guardian downstairs. This fiery-red figure, arms stretched out, centrally placed amongst a busy collage, could easily read as a burning man. He overlooks this group of works that generally has a more elemental feeling than downstairs.
There is plenty of mystery here. Lesley Goldacre’s photographic work The Spirits was created sans Photoshop jiggery-pokery, but you wouldn’t think so. It feels supernatural…it’s not clear whether we’re looking at columns of fire, or simply clouds reflecting violent and fabulous golden light. Then there are the repeated giant figures, silhouetted against this bright sky; but what they boast in size, they lack in solidity. They are only half there…almost wiped from the record. This could perhaps suggest a memory of trees, dwarfing the ‘real’ ones described in dark tracery at the top of the hill.
Lesley Goldacre, The Spirits
In the corner next to Vyvian Wilson’s spectacular Island Blazing (which is so compelling that the the viewer could be concerned that embers will fall on her feet where she stands) is a modest piece with content as big as the world. Annie Bourke’s Sunset Reflection is a tiny oil painting describing the light of the dying sun over the ocean. There is a tanker, an industrial ship, in the scene also which adds to the humble nature of the presentation. It is a quietly Romantic gem.
There are some welcome and necessary foils to all the heat. Arja Valimaki’s Birch Dream suggests a rhizomatic growth pattern, densely linear with muted earth tones that would probably read as warmish anywhere else; not here though. Carefully woven throughout the whole show are moist and lovely oases of various types: a cool misty Coledale by David Manks; bright, lush scenes by Tony Hull (Heat Haze, Kendall’s Beach Kiama and Summer Heat, Wombarra Pool) and Simon Tognetti’s ceramic bowl, The Rockpool.
Arja Valimaki, Birch Dream, acrylic on canvas.
Context truly is everything, as Curators are well aware. Anthony Buselli’s Altar describes rock formations on the beachfront. This prompted powerful associations, sitting as it does amongst this hot congregation. Being a Coledale local, for me the beachfront is very much a part of my Escape Plan for the inevitable “catastrophic” category fire risk days. Then I remembered those families down in Tasmania –I think last year – forced to remain standing in the ocean for hours on end simply to survive. An altar at such times might be not so unlikely a thing.