When you travel into the Flinders Ranges you are immediately struck by how ancient the land is. You can see this clearly in the magnificent Brachina Gorge. Here you follow an 8 kilometre track through the Heysen Range, wandering past old, old cliffs, through dry creek beds and around magnificent river red gums. Along the way are plaques that mark the geological journey that you are on. 640 million years! (It is also the place where you can see the yellow footed rock wallabies…..but that is for another time.)
Hans Heysen, famous for his paintings of gum trees, went to the Flinders Ranges in 1926. They became the focus of his art for quite a few years. In a letter to Lionel Lindsay he writes his impressions “of vastness and age, a very, very old country….you see the bare bones of the landscape.” He wanted his paintings to show the earth frozen in time, to capture those bare bones — weathered ridges and tilted cliff faces.
Heysen was a painter of light, as well as time. He was one of the early painters to explore the nature of light in Australia and understood that it was different to European light. He captured its clarity by painting these craggy mountains as though there was no ‘veil of atmosphere’ between him and them.
To do that he needed to alter his palette to warmer and stronger blues for the skies and rich purples and earth tones for the land. Watercolour allowed him to capture the vibrancy of shadows and the luminosity of the light.
The Heysen Range has been named after him. (By the way, Heysen’s daughter Nora was an excellent artist in her own right and was the first official female war artist.)