CSR Chemical site at Rhodes; City of Canada Bay Heritage Society
The suburb of Rhodes lies between Homebush Bay and a section of the northern line of Sydney’s rail network. It sits upon the traditional lands of the Wangal people and is thought to have been a saltmarsh landscape at the time of its appropriation by settlers in colonial Sydney. In the 20th century it was a site of heavy industry, with CSR Chemicals and Union Carbide occupying large areas of land.
I first saw the place in the 1980s when these companies were still active but approaching the end of their operations. In the post-industrial, pre-development phase of the 1990s the place lay abandoned: a wasteland at the centre of a major city. In the 2000s the land, initially deemed uninhabitable due to dioxins left in the soil by toxic chemical processes, was redeveloped with shopping complexes and apartment buildings.
In spite of the harm done to the land and water by the chemical corporations I always found industrial Rhodes an exciting place to pass through. Fenced off from the public, its wide spaces and massive fixtures sat in contrast to the surrounding suburbs. Looking west from the train through the grid of pipes and exhaust stacks was a memorable experience of my early years: a flickering of near and distant objects with glimpses of water and sky. I began working with the Rhodes peninsula as a subject in 1995 and made many drawings and paintings of the place until 2004, with occasional reprises of the theme in more recent years.
Rhodes peninsula, late twentieth century (2023) is a brush and ink drawing executed on multiple pieces of paper, with the tall alcove of Backspace in mind. It is the memory of one place brought to another, an experiment in imagining the essential structures of the Rhodes Peninsula as they were 30 years ago from an elevated vantage point, the railway line running from top to bottom with ground planes, tanks and buildings alongside.
While the tonality of the drawing has been influenced by old photographs of the place that I have collected in recent years, topographical accuracy has not been my most important priority. In fact, the drawing’s compositional logic may owe as much to a box of old dominoes I own as to any other source. Making this drawing was like slotting pieces into a puzzle, the challenge being to hold each part in an easily appreciable relation to the whole and to keep the forms simple and unembellished: an idea of things rather than the fully described object. These may sound like the words of an abstractionist, but my purpose has remained grounded in a pictorial ethos based on truth to experience. There once was a place and this is how I would describe it…
At Backspace projects, June 2023.
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