Hobie Porter’s microscopically detailed landscapes examine the faceted intersections between modern civilisation, Indigenous cultures and the natural environment. The artist’s skilful trompe l’oeil and striking verisimilitude capture a specific place and time hedged by a suspended sense of timelessness and transcendence. Notions of catharsis and emancipation radiate from the sublime formations of his sweeping panoramas, yet lingering below this surface allure are deeper contemplations of environmental pillage and questions of sustainability in the age of the Anthropocene.
The artist’s newest series, ‘Sydney: A Saltwater Perspective’, depicts the region of Port Jackson and Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub – known to the Eora people as Saltwater Country. In creating the paintings, Porter has been inspired by the contemporary current of historical revisionism of Indigenous engagement with, and cultivation of, the Australian landscape.
Overlaying Porter’s vast landscapes are salient fragments from Indigenous natural history, which float, mid-air, like a displaced memory or material dream. The artist is fascinated by the flora and fauna utilised by Aboriginals in the Saltwater region, and how they managed these for a sustainable future. Many of the paintings depict Banksia Ericifolia seed cones as flaming torches, which were an important source of light prior to European settlement. In the foreground, fire flickers against a night- time backdrop of city lights, the effervescent flames evoking folds of classical drapery. These native cones glow scarlet like a burning heart – a revenant specter refusing to let its light go out. In each work, the artist sensitively captures vignettes of shared human experience, whether it’s the enjoyment of Sydney rock oysters across different cultures or the fundamental need for light and warmth. By reflecting upon the profound Indigenous history in the Saltwater region, he prompts us to remember that the things we love about this place were also cherished by countless generations across cultures.
Buttressing this symbolic continuity is, paradoxically, a sense of contrast, as Porter explores the chasm between the way in which the land is used today and the sustainable ways it was tended by First Nations people for over 50,000 years before European invasion. By placing timeless tropes of Aboriginal culture against panoramic snapshots of the contemporary landscape, he opens up this dichotomy for contemplation. While touching on anthropogenic impacts of loss and neglect, displacement and imposition, the paintings in ‘Sydney: A Saltwater Perspective’ ultimately point towards resilience and redemption, celebrating the ingenuity of Indigenous cultures and the burning necessity for humankind to unite if we are to remedy our fraught relationship with the natural world.