More about Journey Along The Finke River, 2012
The Finke River is one of the oldest rivers in the world still carving its course deep into the ancient bedrock over 300 to 400 million years. Even though it is one of the largest rivers in central Australia it still flows only intermittently after heavy rains. It passes through Palm Valley where a relict and endangered species of cabbage palm and cycads still grow isolated in a microclimate that has allowed their survival. Palm Valley is also home to the rare and endangered Black-footed Rock Wallaby.
This pair of little bottles carries the story of the Afghans who came to Australia in the 19th Century to transport supplies on camelback through the vast unexplored desert country of central Australia. This was before the completion of the Adelaide to Alice Springs railway in the early 20th century that was constructed in part by Chinese labourers who had originally come to Australia to mine gold. The steam train that rode the narrow-gauge track from Maree alongside the Simpson Desert, through the ‘Dog Fence’ over the Finke River was known as the ‘Old Ghan’ having been replaced by the ‘Ghan’.
The images on the bottles are borrowed from fragments of old Chinoiserie wallpapers, an early 20th century Chinese poster advertising cigarettes, Jean-Baptiste Pillement’s 18th Century sketches of fanciful flowers and plants and Stubbs’ ‘Portrait of a Kongouro from New Holland’, 1770’ first shown at the Royal Academy in 1773.
The bottles are cast in Jingdezhen special super white porcelain, glazed and fired to 1330° C.
The painting technique is known in China as Xin Cai or oil painting on porcelain which I learnt in Jingdezhen from a Chinese teacher. Although this technique was invented by the Chinese during the Qing period, it was later perfected by the Germans at Meissen.
Previously I was trained in the Meissen technique by a Meissen painter using a pen, a quill brush, German Degussa colours and mediums but now I use a larger Chinese brush for much of my work with the exception of the tiny faces of the figures which are painted under a magnifying glass with a brush with only 3 or 4 hairs.
- Robin Best