THE HARD LIGHT OF DAY - ROD MOSS - 21st May 2010 - 9th June 2010


Featured artwork

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Big Rooster - This work was originally conceived as a dramatic interaction between indigenous and tourist culture experienced daily through the town streets. Red Rooster now occupies the estate on which Big Rooster, comically, summons the crowds. Edward Neil suggested the venue when I told him my idea. That’s my mother, shielding her vision from the bewildering confrontation.
Year
1992
Size
140 x 122cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
Big Rooster - This work was originally conceived as a dramatic interaction between indigenous and tourist culture experienced daily through the town streets. Red Rooster now occupies the estate on which Big Rooster, comically, summons the crowds. Edward Neil suggested the venue when I told him my idea. That’s my mother, shielding her vision from the bewildering confrontation.
Featured artwork

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
The Madonna of Larapinta - Again, a construction wholly indebted to European ancestry, in this case the direct quote from Perugino’s icon Madonna. The two women, holding the same positions as in the original, as too the infant. Another instance of Christian imagery seamlessly woven into local eastern Arrernte culture., motivated, in large part, by repeated requests for me to make images of the Madonna by the younger mums. Gillen, sharing the identical eye line as in the Italian masterwork, helps locate the Larapinta Valley.
Year
2008
Size
98 x 76cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
Sold
The Madonna of Larapinta - Again, a construction wholly indebted to European ancestry, in this case the direct quote from Perugino’s icon Madonna. The two women, holding the same positions as in the original, as too the infant.  Another instance of Christian imagery seamlessly woven into local eastern Arrernte culture., motivated, in large part, by repeated requests for me to make images of the Madonna by the younger mums. Gillen, sharing the identical eye line as in the Italian masterwork, helps locate the Larapinta Valley.
Featured artwork

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Promises of the Rose Garden - It is a typical, if not archetypical response of ‘giving up’, surrendering to the vagaries of the arid climate in the centre, when not even the ‘sacred’ rose will survive efforts by persistent gardeners. Here, in an image that seeks to channel van Gogh’s cornfield, but set amidst the inflamed, desert grasses and an ominous sky, a tentative child, (my daughter, Anjou) tends her fragile plot.
Year
2009
Size
92 x 119cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
Promises of the Rose Garden - It is a typical, if not archetypical response of ‘giving up’, surrendering to the vagaries of the arid climate in the centre, when not even the ‘sacred’ rose will survive efforts by persistent gardeners. Here, in an image that seeks to channel van Gogh’s cornfield, but set amidst the inflamed, desert grasses and an ominous sky, a tentative child, (my daughter, Anjou) tends her fragile plot.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
The Meeting - My son, Raffi, was 15 when we constructed this, he reported that year how he’d been bailed up by taunting teenagers on a track close to home. Any possible scuffle was adjourned when one of the lads recognised Raffi and allowed him to proceed home. He was, nevertheless, shaken by the event. I made a couple of versions of the incident, which is sadly, indicative of the racial tensions that percolate on a daily basis with aggressors both indigenous and non- indigenous.
Year
2006
Size
100 x 132cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,000
The Meeting - My son, Raffi, was 15 when we constructed this, he reported that year how he’d been bailed up by taunting teenagers on a track close to home. Any possible scuffle was adjourned when one of the lads recognised Raffi and allowed him to proceed home. He was, nevertheless, shaken by the event. I made a couple of versions of the incident, which is sadly, indicative of the racial tensions that percolate on a daily basis with aggressors both indigenous and non- indigenous.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Healing at Twin Caves - David Johnson had performed his angangkere powers several times on me. And for toothache, stomach cramps and colds, I've had relief from other family angangkere. Both men and women have healing powers, though I have only experienced those of several men. I've been told that when an infant's weight fluctuates, putting it on then losing it, for several years, it can be a sign of a future healer. Each healer I've encountered, ostensibly, acts similarly, with a soft laying on of hands, a clicking in the mouth, and the production, in the very least, of blood in their spittle, and for more residual, embedded pain, sometimes the emission of bone fragments. So when Anjou had a stomach upset, rather than making our first line of approach towards allopathic drugs, I tried to trace David. A Pitjantjatjara angangkere of high repute, however, was camping at Whitegate and interceded, offering his assistance. Anjou was initially agitated, but soon calmed and recovered her health. When I caught up with David I asked him if he'd mind re-enacting such an event, and, when I'd recorded this, transposed the figures to Twin Caves, an abandoned camp site an hour due south of town, where the nearby healing story of the native pine tree emanates.
Year
2002
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Size
88 x 140cm
Price
$5,000
Healing at Twin Caves -  David Johnson had performed his angangkere powers several times on me. And for toothache, stomach cramps and colds, I've had relief from other family angangkere. Both men and women have healing powers, though I have only experienced those of several men. I've been told that when an infant's weight fluctuates, putting it on then losing it, for several years, it can be a sign of a future healer.

Each healer I've encountered, ostensibly, acts similarly, with a soft laying on of hands, a clicking in the mouth, and the production, in the very least, of blood in their spittle, and for more residual, embedded pain, sometimes the emission of bone fragments. So when Anjou had a stomach upset, rather than making our first line of approach towards allopathic drugs, I tried to trace David. A Pitjantjatjara angangkere of high repute, however, was camping at Whitegate and interceded, offering his assistance. Anjou was initially agitated, but soon calmed and recovered her health. When I caught up with David I asked him if he'd mind re-enacting such an event, and, when I'd recorded this, transposed the figures to Twin Caves, an abandoned camp site an hour due south of town, where the nearby healing story of the native pine tree emanates.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Bush Track; They Lie Among Us - I imagined an apocalyptic landscape set on the track opposite Whitegate where I so often took the kids in my trailer to source mulga for the camp's fires. The albino bull that Tony Richardson employed early on 70s version of Ned Kelly inspired the equine touch; the alien intruder curiously sniffing its way towards the kids. I'd seen some footage of kids abandoned on the roadside in some war-torn city perimeter, possibly in Bosnia.
Year
2008
Size
80 x 120cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$4,100
Bush Track; They Lie Among Us - I imagined an apocalyptic landscape set on the track opposite Whitegate where I so often took the kids in my trailer to source mulga for the camp's fires. The albino bull that Tony Richardson employed early on 70s version of Ned Kelly inspired the equine touch; the alien intruder curiously sniffing its way towards the kids. I'd seen some footage of kids abandoned on the roadside in some war-torn city perimeter, possibly in Bosnia.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Fire Paints the Country Black - In the early years of this decade the Western deserts were subject to massive fire fronts. Around Alice, spot fires erupted, some deliberately torched. At this time, I’d plonk my youngest daughter, Anjou in her car seat and cruise the nearby dirt tracks to jog her to sleep. Once, when passing an incinerated patch she remarked, ’Fire paints the country black, dad’. Though I’d long wanted to paint her as one of Velasquez’s child beauties, this exclamation provided the spark. She clutches her snoopy dog like a shield and clenches her free hand, anxious in these surrounds. Kaston Hayes and Marla, our Jack Russell, accompany her.
Year
2005
Size
91 x 139cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
NFS
Fire Paints the Country Black - In the early years of this decade the Western deserts were subject to massive fire fronts. Around Alice, spot fires erupted, some deliberately torched. At this time, I’d plonk my youngest daughter, Anjou in her car seat and cruise the nearby dirt tracks to jog her to sleep. Once, when passing an incinerated patch she remarked, ’Fire paints the country black, dad’. Though I’d long wanted to paint her as one of Velasquez’s child beauties, this exclamation provided the spark. She clutches her snoopy dog like a shield and clenches her free hand, anxious in these surrounds. Kaston Hayes and Marla, our Jack Russell, accompany her.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Fallen Man - This is an adaption of Giovanni Bellini’s, Drunkeness of Noah, 1515. I’ve often resorted to the religious imagery from the western stock of iconic figurative imagery. Moreover, it has a resonance with the Eastern Arrernte, many of whom have had significant education within the ambit of the Catholic Church and mission at Santa Teresa. The ‘fallen’ figure, Noelly Johnson engaged in a number of my tableaus over the decades, featuring from the earliest years until his passing in 2009.
Year
2010
Size
91 x 139cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
Fallen Man - This is an adaption of Giovanni Bellini’s, Drunkeness of Noah, 1515. I’ve often resorted to the religious imagery from the western stock of iconic figurative imagery. Moreover, it has a resonance with the Eastern Arrernte, many of whom have had significant education within the ambit of the Catholic Church and mission at Santa Teresa. The ‘fallen’ figure, Noelly Johnson engaged in a number of my tableaus over the decades, featuring from the earliest years until his passing in 2009.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
The Age of Corrugation- This painting is set in the Johnson homelands at Ulerarlkwe, a little over four hours drive east and on the periphery of the Simpson desert. Jude Johnson keys in the painting with the intensity of his gaze. Joany McCormack’s despairing gesture is echoed in the spindly legs of the table. Sally Perkins and Caroline Johnson coyly approach the viewer.
Year
1987
Size
S104 x 163cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
The Age of Corrugation- This painting is set in the Johnson homelands at Ulerarlkwe, a little over four hours drive east and on the periphery of the Simpson desert. Jude Johnson keys in the painting with the intensity of his gaze. Joany McCormack’s despairing gesture is echoed in the spindly legs of the table. Sally Perkins and Caroline Johnson coyly approach the viewer.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Enigma of the Whiteman - There is an arc of bewildered onlookers wondering what the Whiteman is up to; and, to complete the role reversal, an Arrernte man is filming the wrestling ‘couple’. It’s an echo of Courbet’s 1849 depiction of immigrant wrestlers on the outskirts of Paris; a significantly disruptive time during the reconstruction of Paris by request of Napoleon 3. I made myself the naked wrestler, wrestling with him self, with hopefully, the same, ugly, brutal, confrontative mode employed by France’s greatest realist artist.
Year
2008
Size
80 x 120cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$4,160
Enigma of the Whiteman - 

There is an arc of bewildered onlookers wondering what the Whiteman is up to; and, to complete the role reversal, an Arrernte man is filming the wrestling ‘couple’. It’s an echo of Courbet’s 1849 depiction of immigrant wrestlers on the outskirts of Paris; a significantly disruptive time during the reconstruction of Paris by request of Napoleon 3. I made myself the naked wrestler, wrestling with him self, with hopefully, the same, ugly, brutal, confrontative mode employed by France’s greatest realist artist.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Expulsion - The men in headdress on the left background are enacting a fight for the camera. They are invoking a previous historic time (say, the Baldwin Spencer era). Non –indigenous film crews have been happy to focus attention on nostalgic views of past indigenous life while contemporary realities are right there before them as is apparent with the group of men on the right near foreground. Here, the echo is massaccio’s, C15th, Adam and Eve, naked, expelled from Eden. The stripped Adam, head lowered and in shame, is in a state of expulsion, exile and rejection. Again, I image myself, incorporating these states, given the aforementioned ‘play’.
Year
2008
Size
80 x 120cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$4,100
Expulsion - The men in headdress on the left background are enacting a fight for the camera. They are invoking a previous historic time (say, the Baldwin Spencer era). Non –indigenous film crews have been happy to focus attention on nostalgic views of past indigenous life while contemporary realities are right there before them as is apparent with the group of men on the right near foreground. Here, the echo is massaccio’s, C15th, Adam and Eve, naked, expelled from Eden. The stripped Adam, head lowered and in shame, is in a state of expulsion, exile and rejection. Again, I image myself, incorporating these states, given the aforementioned ‘play’.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Making Music Sticks at Pepperill Creek - This was a favoured location near the boundary of Undoolya Station. A drum is planted in the sandy creek bed to the right of the campers. during winter and still today, though less often, families from Whitegate come to camp in the warmer confines of the creek, where, as depicted, recreational activity occurs and the sheltering tree forms a base for hunters walking the plain in pursuit of kangaroos.
Year
2008
Size
80 x 120cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
Sold
Making Music Sticks at Pepperill Creek - This was a favoured location near the boundary of Undoolya Station. A drum is planted in the sandy creek bed to the right of the campers. during winter and still today, though less often, families from Whitegate come to camp in the warmer confines of the creek, where, as depicted, recreational activity occurs and the sheltering tree forms a base for hunters walking the plain in pursuit of kangaroos.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Dawn Service - Residents at Whitegate, with the assistance of Tangentyere expertise, constructed this modest grotto on the rise in the middle of camp. It was consecrated by Father Pat Mullins after a bough roof was completed. Only months later, this was incinerated in a fit of pique by one of the younger Webb men. As it stands now, you can see in the background of the painting, The Disrobing of Adrian Hayes.
Year
1998
Size
140 x 290cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$6,600
Dawn Service - Residents at Whitegate, with the assistance of Tangentyere expertise, constructed this modest grotto on the rise in the middle of camp. It was consecrated by Father Pat Mullins after a bough roof was completed. Only months later, this was incinerated in a fit of pique by one of the younger Webb men. As it stands now, you can see in the background of the painting, The Disrobing of Adrian Hayes.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Stephan, Sylvester and kids at Splitrail Pass, Antewlye Outstation - Fire Mountain is shown looming behind the figures. My youngest, Anjou is assisting Angelena Haye’s kids, as the young men pose.
Year
2008
Size
55 x 143cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$5,000
Stephan, Sylvester and kids at Splitrail Pass, Antewlye Outstation - Fire Mountain is shown looming behind the figures. My youngest, Anjou is assisting Angelena Haye’s kids, as the young men pose.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
The Disrobing of Adrian Hayes
Year
2008
Size
71 x 144cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
The Disrobing of Adrian Hayes

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Snake killers - A couple of snakes had been spotted in the wood pile which was too close to sleeping quarters for comfort. In fact, only days before, a man had been woken from afternoon slumbers by a king brown slithering across his bare chest, where he lay on the open ground. His heart pumped emphatically as he watched it slide off into the nearby grass. The men had waited until dusk to sort some snakes out of the woodpile. Shovels in hand, they rounded the pile, chucking sticks and stones at it to spook the reptiles, a mother and her babe. Here, I've reconstructed the event with Paul and Basil Hayes, and Lawrence Rice about to damage the snakes.
Year
2003/4
Size
110 x 136cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
$5,800
Snake killers - A couple of snakes had been spotted in the wood pile which was too close to sleeping quarters for comfort. In fact, only days before, a man had been woken from afternoon slumbers by a king brown slithering across his bare chest, where he lay on the open ground. His heart pumped emphatically as he watched it slide off into the nearby grass.

The men had waited until dusk to sort some snakes out of the woodpile. Shovels in hand, they rounded the pile, chucking sticks and stones at it to spook the reptiles, a mother and her babe. Here, I've reconstructed the event with Paul and Basil Hayes, and Lawrence Rice about to damage the snakes.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Dark Claypan at Deepwell - This small hillock midpoint of a prodigious claypan a few kilometers to the north west of the Deep Well homestead, is an important sight in the Arrernte story of young initiated boys that travel north via Pine Gap, through where the town is situated, and on north up the Todd. Here the lone tree is being called by the young men/coolibah trees, on the rim of the pan. The breast-shaped hill/mother attempts to detain her son from joining them by sprinkling tempting crumbs of bread represented by the ring of gravel girding the hill. This is the same hill featuring in the painting, Expulsion. Regrettably, the location is rapidly being despoiled by persistent motorized buggies and two-wheeled bikes.
Year
2008
Size
80 x 120cm
Price
$2,000
Dark Claypan at Deepwell - This small hillock midpoint of a prodigious claypan a few kilometers to the north west of the Deep Well homestead, is an important sight in the Arrernte story of young initiated boys that travel north via Pine Gap, through where the town is situated, and on north up the Todd. Here the lone tree is being called by the young men/coolibah trees, on the rim of the pan. The breast-shaped hill/mother attempts to detain her son from joining them by sprinkling tempting crumbs of bread represented by the ring of gravel girding the hill. This is the same hill featuring in the painting, Expulsion. Regrettably, the location is rapidly being despoiled by persistent motorized buggies and two-wheeled bikes.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Camp on the Hill - Ursula Johnson- Nichaloff points to the family scene, while sister, Joany McCormack averts her face. Sister Eva Johnson sits on the blanket facing the dog. Bobby Palmer stares at the viewer. A sprinkle of family occupy the middle ground. This is how family constellate.
Year
2006
Size
82 x 141cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper laminated to canvas
Price
Sold
Camp on the Hill - Ursula Johnson- Nichaloff points to the family scene, while sister, Joany McCormack averts her face. Sister Eva Johnson sits on the blanket facing the dog. Bobby Palmer stares at the viewer. A sprinkle of family occupy the middle ground. This is how family constellate.

Artist
Rod Moss
Title
Wigley's Waterhole- Long-awaited rain that refreshed waterholes gave urgency to a swimming outing. Given the rarity of the Todd River flowing, and that waterholes would soon foul in the heat, it was an opportunity provided by nature that was irresistible. We nearly always drove via camp to pick up anybody wanting to join us. The most recognisable are Raffi and Malcolm Hayes in the near right corner.
Year
1994
Size
112 x 195cm
Medium
Synthetic polymer and graphite on 320gsm paper
Price
$6,600
Wigley's Waterhole- Long-awaited rain that refreshed waterholes gave urgency to a swimming outing. Given the rarity of the Todd River flowing, and that waterholes would soon foul in the heat, it was an opportunity provided by nature that was irresistible. We nearly always drove via camp to pick up anybody wanting to join us. The most recognisable are Raffi and Malcolm Hayes in the near right corner.

Launch exhibition gallery




The Rod Moss Hard Light of Day book and exhibition has received considerable media attention, a feature article by Rosemary Sorenson in The Australian 21/5/10, a review by Barry Hill in The Age 29/5/10, The Sydney Morning Herald 5/6/10, various ABC radio interviews including Alice Springs & Darwin Regional Radio and Late Night Live with Philip Adams on Radio National 7/6/10 (repeated 8/6/10).  



Alice in the Hard Light of Day - Does art have rights to travel where it likes? Does its value reside mainly in the painful questions that it prompts? Few painters visit the polarization, the strife at the heart of our country: our sickness, with anything approaching visual veracity? The wall-papering that's continued down the years, the ideologies, the veil of fashionable isms, these denials inspire me. How can the aesthetics of any art tally with the brutality of fundamental neglect? I've tried to remain open to what happens in Alice Springs and honed my skills to paint a parallel of my cross-cultural experience.

A constellation of events drew me to Central Australia in the early 1980s and, to friendships with Eastern Arrernte families. They were my nearest neighbours, living in appalling poverty on the bush side of a tall tin fence in one of the town's many fringe camps. And I’d landed a job, lecturing art in the small post-secondary art college (absorbed into Charles Darwin University in 2003). My rented flat was on the other side of that fence.

I was enmeshed in a leftist sort of mood swing which included a re-appraisal of indigenous cultures and their languages, reviewed colonial malpractice, and the exploitation of the environment. To speak of the mid seventies to eighties, regards art history, the glaring absence of the human figure was at least a remarked upon fact. Although the acrylic art of indigenous desert artists was in its infancy, it would soon supersede any non-indigenous trend on the national and international scene. But images of indigenous people were not part of this mix. I wanted to say something about the quality of cross-cultural experience I was having. So a double challenge presented; to go in the face of late modernism’s discounting of the human figure, and to re-figure, redeem, if you like, the Aboriginal figure in the nation’s image bank.

It's almost two decades since indigenous writer, the late Kevin Gilbert claimed, 'Life for Australian blacks is far too real, too raw, far too close to the knuckles of oppression in the ghettos in the cities, the fringe camps in the rural areas, for abstract interpretation'. Nothing has changed. I still agree.

I tried to avoid the precedents that existed; the idealised Dreaming of the male Aboriginal, pictured like a thought bubble swirling in a cloud around his portrait; Gauguin-like idylls; Primitive man at one with nature. None of these approaches approximated my encounters which ranged through humour, gentleness, togetherness, to gross dysfunctions caused by displacement, domination, and a lack of dignity. The available art gave no articulation to these things.

A quarter century on, the juice in our relationships guides material for painting and my strategies and processes remain. Photography continues to play its role. Whether the narratives are complete fabrications, re-describing actual events, or using earlier, realist artists’ work as leverage, the look of documentation is abetted by the camera. The issues between non-indigenous and indigenous cultures continue to confound and splutter through the land. Some kind of personalising of indigenous people, might go a small way towards recognising the dignity of our shared humanity.

Opening Night

Veronica Turner...

'Welcome everyone to Arrernte country. My name is Veronica Turner, I have known Rod Moss for many years. He has been like family to us. Rod was very close to my uncle Edward Arrenye Johnson. He was like a father to Rod. My uncle would tell stories to him about our country and culture.

 I remember when I was a young girl, my cousin(Xavier Neal) would pinch oranges off his tree over the fence. He would take off down the lane way and share them with all of us. We always wondered if Rod saw us or knew about it. Thank you Rod.

 Rod has always supported our family during sad time and been a great friend to us over the years. Rod is very understanding. In all of Rod's paintings are people that I know. These people are my families. Even though the pictures are made up, the people in the paintings are very real.

 I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Rod for the launch of his book and celebrate his paintings. Rod is an exceptional painter. Our families are very proud to be a part of Rod Moss and his families.

 Congratulations.



Russell Goldflam....



The Hard Light of Day

I swigged down Rod Moss’s book in one long gulp, sitting out in the cold hard light of a dazzling, dazing Alice Springs autumn day. I couldn’t get enough of its bitter, sweet taste, drowning myself in the sorrows of the Whitegate mob, down to the last drop, thinking if I keep reading then this misery might go away. But it didn’t. The more of this book I drank the sadder we both got. Like when you decide to knock off the rest of the bottle, wishfully thinking you might start feeling better for a change, after just one more charge.

Rod Moss has been unflinchingly staring into the hard light of Alice Springs days for a quarter of a century, and for a quarter of a century he’s been unflinchingly recording what he sees when he stares. He’s not a sentimentalist or a moralist or a demagogue or a ratbag or a rabble-rouser or a romantic or a cynic. He’s an artist. First, he is a technician of light, extracting its shards from the sky and, by some extraordinary alchemy affixing them to canvas like his enduring heroes the French impressionists, flushing out ‘the deep colours found in shadows’, and ensnaring the ‘shimmering atmosphere’. But unlike the impressionists, who were drunk on the plein air they painted, and painted in, Moss is engaged not just with the marks he makes, but also with what, and more importantly, with who he sees in the hard light of day. His children, ever-present on these canvasses and these pages, and, more discomfortingly and confrontingly, the Arrernte families who, long ago, he almost inadvertently got mixed up with.

This book is like only one other I know. Ted Strehlow’s Journey to Horseshoe Bend was an unforgettably poignant memoir of his father’s last, agonising passage, through the valley of the Finke River, saturated with the altyerre – the dreaming – stories that vivified all the natural features they passed through. Moss’s memoir is hauntingly similar, an extended elegy for a dying Arrernte man who affectionately calls him ‘sonny boy’, and who fathers him through his country, from the Eastern suburbs of Alice Springs all the way to where the Todd River floods out at the edge of the Simpson Desert. But Moss stresses that ‘when you are embraced by an Aboriginal family, it is the whole family you embrace’, and this book isn’t just a sorry-song for Arrenye, it’s a sorry-song for all the Johnsons and their kin, it’s a sorry-song for all Eastern Arrernte people, and therefore it’s a sorry-song for all of us, at this particularly sorry time here in the this particular corner of the country.

The book begins with a cocky snapshot of a footy team’s worth of young proud tough-looking Johnson guys. It was taken 25 years ago. Almost every one of these fellas, including the cute little kid in the front row, is now dead, chopped down, almost to a man, by grog. As Moss, agog, witnessed this unfolding calamity over the ensuing decades, he didn’t flinch. He watched, he painted, and he wrote. For a time he was at a loss how or even whether to paint what he was seeing: the squalor, the violence, the toxicity, the intoxication; but also the grim humour, the cheerful defiance, the intimacy of shared grief, the power of ceremonial ritual. Then some fancy art critic from New York gave Rod a poke: ‘Make the bastards squirm’ he said, ‘bear down hard, even if it scares you’. And so Moss took a deep breath, and bore down hard. What he’s been painting ever since isn’t rosy or pretty or easy. It unsettles us politically correct whitefellas. The Whitegate mob themselves, however, ruthless realists out of dire daily necessity, see this work for what it is. It is work made in their memory, in their honour. This is art as testimony.

And if this is testimony, then we’re all in court, embroiled in a case in which we are all parties, and witnesses, and, yes, judges. As a lawyer, I suppose it is only to be expected that I tend to see things through a legalistic prism, but there’s been an awful lot of law-talk around town lately about the very issues Rod Moss has been quietly testifying to all these years. The first of what I would call his testimonial paintings, done back in 1987, is of a group of three black kids with their slingshots, pelting stones at whitefella property. One of these kids was Ricky Ryder, first cousin of Donny Ryder, who last year did much the same thing to the property of five whitefellas driving past. As you all know, Donny paid with his life, and the fellows in that car are now paying for their crime. I know. I was the lawyer for one of them. Ricky Ryder himself died in 2006 after being attacked in his own home a hundred metres or so from where Donny was to die, by three brothers who were also his own relations. Those fellas too went to gaol, to pay for their crime. I know. I was the lawyer for one of them, too. The year Ricky died, Rod Moss painted ‘Confrontation’, in which he depicts his own teenage son being bailed up, taunted and menaced by a mob of five young blackfellas, roughly the same age as the five whitefellas who fatally confronted Donny Ryder. It’s impossible to look at these paintings now without seeing in them the seeds of the tragedies which have since enveloped us, and shaken our community. If indeed one can even call Alice Springs ‘a community’ any more, so deep and troubling are the fissures which now yawn beneath our feet, threatening to swallow us all up. As Moss writes, ‘the silence between cultures seems greater than ever’. But he insists, through his art and his life, that we start communing again, to make for ourselves the community we have to become if we are to have a common future.

In legal parlance, we have no choice but to settle. We must settle up, and we must settle down. To settle a case, first you have to agree on the facts. Here are some facts, for starters, that I propose we agree on. In this town there is a great sorrow, the sorrow of lives thrown away. We must grieve together. This sorrow is the product of great violence, violence of action and violence of thought, born of despair and frustration and ignorance and fear and bleak memories. We must stand up against this violence together. And this violence is fuelled by the prodigious quantities of grog we swig down in great gulps. We must change this, together. There is no grog here tonight. So that’s one little thing we have done from which a big thing might grow. Like the countless little things Rod Moss has done ever since he first pushed his garden hose under the fence a quarter of a century ago so that a black man he didn’t know could fill his billycan. From that little thing, a big thing has grown. Let’s let that be a lesson to us.



Russell Goldflam

21 May 2010

ABOUT THE ARTIST

ROD MOSS

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