Zak Tilley is a Northern Territory-based artist and practices on the sovereign lands of the Central Arrernte People in Alice Springs. His practice is concerned with how one relates and identifies with the natural environment, and specifically the Australian Landscape.
During his Bachelor of Fine Arts from The College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Sydney, Zak majored in Drawing and Painting but mostly produced mixed media paintings, dyed and embroidered textiles, sculptures and ceramics. A central aspect of Zak practice is his work in arts education, social services and community arts development.
“My work is a critical analysis and personal investigation of my relationship with the Australian landscape.”
His practice is a constant journey of processing fables of Australian identity and exploring his own interwoven relationship between place and practice. As he explores and paints his surrounds of Central Australia, Zak is able to confront, critique and process his inner conflicts, which embody ideas of identity, belonging, and otherness against an intimate but necessarily colonial relationship with the Australian landscape, as he attempts to sensitively and respectfully work on Arrernte Country, and throughout Central Australia.
“Painting the landscape out in the country allows me to be very present and sensitive in my interactions with it. It is a harsh but necessary reminder of who I am, where I am, and why…”
“Over time when I am painting, I have become more critical of my relationship with the landscape; consciously navigating the complexities around it – I explore a land which has a history of neglect, abuse and cultural removal from its traditional owners and custodians, this is intertwined with my settler heritage.”
“I cannot paint, depict, and present the landscape without first and foremost acknowledging that this exhibition was conceived and created on the sovereign lands of the West Aranda people and Central Arrernte people. I acknowledge the traditional owners of Mpulungkinya, in Finke Gorge National Park, the West Aranda people, who have survived here for thousands of years. I am incredibly thankful that I have the privilege to walk through their Country, explore and create in this landscape. I would also like to pay my respects to the Elders past, present and those still emerging, of all First Nations people."
‘The Few and Far’ is a painterly oeuvre, depicting Mpulungkinya (Palm Valley) and the Mpaara Walk, both nestled in the Finke Gorge National Park of West Aranda Country, approximately 150km west of Alice Springs.
These large scale canvases were painted in Tilley’s Alice Springs studio, from ink on paper plein air studies that were documented on an earlier painting trip. The body of work reveals Tilley’s exploration of the landscape, both physically and emotionally.
Whilst painting for ‘The Few and Far’ in Finke Gorge National Park, Tilley was reminded of the privilege that it is to create and explore narratives of experience within the Australian landscape.
He freely emphasises his appreciation of the red quartzite peaks that cut into blue chalky sky, and the luminescent white trunks of ghost gums and green Cabbage Palms that stand in stark contrast to one another. Honoured as he walks through the ancient gorges of the Finke River (also referred to as Larapinta), the oldest river in the world, Zak documents the pink veins swelling through the expanse.
“Whenever I am painting or depicting the landscape, I find myself in a state of flux, of inner conflict. Being in the landscape so often sparks feelings of sentiment and nostalgia of some Australiana identity. This feeling, however, feels void of truth and realism. It’s a foggy dream and stinks of patriotism. I snap out of it…painting is a good reminder of who I am and where I am and why.”
“I am a visitor walking through hidden hills of Mpaara, and the green saturated valley of Red Cabbage Palms in Mpulungkinya.
A visitor of West Aranda Country, of Central Australia.
Ink and paper, I arrive and walk with the landscape, to record my interactions and conversations with it.
Blood red quartzite peaks cut out the chalky skies and the palms seem to support this.
I’ve seen pink river-beds that generously flow through ancient gorges, narrow and deep as the abyss.
I scan spectrums of shapes and colours distinctively quintessential to ‘Australian’ landscapes, of ‘the outback’, ‘the desert’.
I am depicting and conflicting, sentimentalising.
Nostalgic urges of belonging in this landscape are wistfully bittersweet.
Undeniable is the tragically violent past and present in which I am inherently and generationally complacent in which has taken place and continues to occur on this land.
Landscape orientations of identity transpire and feel incompatible.
And the landscape holds all of this reflection.” - Zak Tilley.
* Notes taken on a painting trip out bush - West Aranda Country, October 2021.
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