'Dry river bed NT.' 1953
© Margaret Rose Preston Estate. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
As the leading protagonist of modernism during the 1930s, Margaret Preston created many paintings and prints that emphasised strong design and simplified forms. The stencil prints she produced when aged in her late seventies distil these principles into works such as Dry river bed, NT., an aerial view of a serpentine riverbed carved into the rocky outback landscape.
Preston rejects the earthy tones usually associated with the desert landscape and instead shows a night-time scene, emphasised by a cool palette of black, white and grey gouache, which she daubed through a paper stencil onto black card.The deep black shadows contrast with the moonlit riverbed, while the composition is held together by areas of unpainted black card that define the structure of the rocky terrain.
The paint is applied with a vigorous dotting action, inspired by bark painting, which gives the composition a distinctive texture and energy. Preston admired Indigenous Australian and traditional Chinese modes of representing the landscape, and their influence can be seen in her use of the stencil technique and aerial viewpoints in many of her later works. This is one of 126 prints by Preston in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008