Feature story July/August 2021: My Darling Escarpment

Monique Tippett’s deep relationship with the forest is both palpable and a protest for its future.       

LYN DI CIERO

Monique Tippett with her work, Wedding Bush. Photos Matt Cook.

Dwellingup artist Monique Tippett says if you ever want to see what bauxite mining has done to the Darling Escarpment, make sure you bring you tissues. “You might see one habitat tree sitting in the middle of nothing,” she says, adding the area is home to mainland quokkas, and many endangered species, not to mention native orchids and flora.
 
Her upcoming solo, My Darling ll: Orisons at Holmes à Court Gallery in West Perth is a devotion to this forest, and a whispered prayer for its protection as one of only 35 biodiversity hot spots in the world. Her abstract works, using wood as a primary medium, are finely crafted objects using the tactile language of timber to elicit contemplation of the peace and power of immersion in the wild and ancient forest, which has seeped deeply into her soul. Now she finds herself fighting for its existence. “I have become part of a group of forest dwellers who want to protect what remains.”
 
She says five log trucks a day pass through Dwellingup, laden with massive logs. “From Jarrahdale to Collie, they bulldoze the forest so its completely gone, scrape off the topsoil, then dig down about eight metres to extract the bauxite, fill it in, replace the topsoil and replant. So the forest is pretty much killed, and obviously all the animals who live in that forest as well. Once you’ve seen a regenerated forest, it’s clear it’s nothing like a natural forest.”A new visual description has entered her work – that of the pink/orange plastic tape, used to mark out which areas will be felled next. “It’s common to see the pink/orange or blue tape in the forest, and now this is in my work,” she says. “Tracks, for instance (front cover), shows the imprint trucks have made on the earth, and the pink tape around the site at the time.”
 
Tippett moved to Dwellingup with her family 20 years ago so she could attend the Australian School of Fine Wood for a two year diploma as a designer maker. “I was already making works with wood, but I needed to be more confident with the material, the machinery used and techniques. It was just an invaluable course.”
 
Around the same time she moved there, two large trees fell naturally on a local property. “We milled those up, and really, it’s a lifetime worth of wood for me. Most of the solid timber for my artworks is from those two trees from 20 years ago.” Tippett also uses veneers and has collected other timbers, such as wandoo from reclaimed seating at the old Perry Lakes Stadium, and jarrah sleepers from the Hotham Valley Railway line. “It’s just beautiful to use recycled and reclaimed timbers,” she says.
 
Tippett has exhibited both here and overseas, and has twice won the acquisitive South West Art Now. Her works are in a raft of collections, including the Janet Holmes à Court Collection, Edith Cowan University and the WA State Collection. Her public art can be seen at various locations across the state, including Perth Children’s Hospital and the Premier’s Cabinet offices.
 
Between opening the new exhibition space, Lost Eden Creative, in Dwellingup in 2019, completing a work for Parliament House and a solo exhibition at Edith Cowan University, the prolific artist has had little time for public art of late. Apart from this exhibition she will produce works for the Indian Ocean Triennial at John Curtin Gallery in September, and finish off the year with a survey of her work at Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, a collaboration between BRAG and the Art Gallery of WA, which will also include works by Howard Taylor. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also organising a fundraiser for the WA Forest Alliance at Lost Eden Creative from 4 December to 2 January, which will include some 80 Perth based artists who have so far exhibited at the space.
 
Throughout the fervent pace of her practice, she says she’s grateful for the patronage of Janet Holmes à Court. “It’s not often you would find a patron like Janet taking an interest in an artist. She’s been supporting my work for the past decade, buying my work.” Tippett says a Regional Art Fellowship Grant through Regional Arts WA has allowed her to keep pace with a punishing creative schedule by supplying funds to employ people to help in her studio, but the forest is never far from her thoughts. “Through my work I’m giving thanks to the wood I use and adding value to it. The truth is the forest here is on my mind all the time. It’s what we talk about in the studio, and it’s what we worry about.”
 
My Darling ll: Orisons is on show at Holmes à Court Gallery, West Perth from 16 July – 21 August.
Monique Tippett is represented by Gunyulgup Galleries, Yallingup.

Stacked, jarrah and inks, 189 x 90 by Monique Tippett.

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