The detritus of bushfires – black, dusty charcoal – is being gathered up from fire fields across NSW and given to more than 100 artists so they can produce works for a fundraising exhibition at Carriageworks this month.
A dream-team of Australian artists, including Mambo legend Reg Mombassa and his daughter Lucy O’Doherty, are joining forces with big international names including Shepard Fairey (designer of the iconic Barack Obama ‘Hope’ image) for the exhibition, aptly named “RISE”.
Works submitted so far reveal some astonishingly varied applications of charcoal – and before you ask, yes, there’s plenty of colour. It’s not all black.
“It’s my favourite medium; I’ve got thousands of charcoal drawings in sketchbooks,” said Mombassa.
“It’s what our ancestors used to sketch a bull on a cave wall, but it’s really versatile. You can have the very hard sharp line, but you get interesting accidents. You can smudge it with your hand to get a tone.”
The bushfire cause is clearly heartfelt for the artists, both of whom had friends affected by the recent crisis.
Mombassa knows many of the hardest-hit towns well from decades of gigs with his bands Mental as Anything and Dog Trumpet.
“During the height of the fires, I felt a helplessness and hopelessness about not being able to do more, so it’s nice to be able to donate a work,” O’Doherty said.
The recipient of the 2016 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship, O’Doherty’s soft pastel landscapes often feature the sort of isolated shacks and houses that were lost in the bushfire season.
“My main interest is colour and how colours can evoke certain emotions, but I do think I am also very concerned about the climate changing; I think anxiety about that is seeping in to my work,” she said.
“I do very abandoned spaces and I think that’s because I’m constantly worried about some cataclysmic event where humans aren’t here any more, and it’s just the things we’ve built that remain.”
Mombassa said he is hopeful that the bushfires will prove to be a turning point for Australia.
“One of the most terrible things I heard [during the bushfires] was someone describing the cries and the screams from the animals as the fires came through the forest,” he said.
“People overseas have realised how serious it’s been and there’s been a very generous response [to the exhibition] from all around the world.
“It’s increasingly obvious that the climate is affecting these things, if not causing them. I hope people start to deal with it in a more practical and useful way.”
RISE co-founder Matty Burton said charcoal had been collected from a number of bushfire areas cleared for safe entry, including Hill Top in the Southern Highlands and near Narooma on the south coast.
“Fire doesn’t discriminate, which is why we are going to present this show with a democratic hang,” he said.
“Every artist in the show affects culture. From people who started street art in the US, the early days of hip hop, the skate scene in California to Australia’s own surfing counterculture. These artists are huge names.
“And they are alongside up and comers who are creating new culture right now, in music, media, fashion, food, and every other kind of medium. We want RISE to bring people together, to inspire them and help affect positive change.”
Organisations to benefit from the money raised from the sale of artworks include the RFS, Wildlife Victoria, BlazeAid, WIRES, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Wildlife Victoria and Kangaroo Island Wildlife Fund.
A silent online auction of all the artworks will go live on March 10 at risexhibition.com, with the opening to take place on March 12.
“On the night it will be a celebration of what creativity can create from a problem,” Burton said.
Mombassa says his two donated works – produced on a friend’s bushfire ravaged property – exemplify his personal art philosophy, which he calls “simplisticism”.
The philosophy is also a global political party, art movement and religion, he said.
“I’m the leader and sole member so far. A couple of people have said they wanted to join but I haven’t done the paperwork yet.”
And the group’s creed?
“There’s one commandment, and that’s be kind,” he said. “Be kind to yourself and to other humans, and to the animals, and to the earth.”
Perfectly apt for RISE.
RISE opens March 12 at Carriageworks Bay 25, 245 Wilson St, Eveleigh
Entry by donation
View and purchase artworks online at riseexhibition.com