Every person, every culture holds the frame of their experience in front of them when viewing anything. This was especially true in 18th century England. In days long before digital communication, before even photography itself, art was the conduit through which distant lands and exotic flora and fauna were observed. In the all-too-human need to understand the “different” in terms of what is already known and comfortable, artists pictured the world beyond their homeland perceived through the lens of what was already conventionally recognised as the familiar.
The first fleet fought vainly to forge this antipodean and alien landscape into something more comfortably recognizable while exporting back to the motherland strange artefacts it could only understand in terms of their cultures’ set of agreed values and codes of existence.
This lead to the Australian landscape being represented as strongly European in style, these images becoming more “true” than the truth from which they were drawn. Indeed Dürer’s Rhinoceros woodcut, one in which the rhinoceros has two horns, one of which is located on its back, so dominated the popular psyche of the time that even after a real rhinoceros (with no horn on its back) was brought back and exhibited in Europe subsequent images of the beast continued to be pictured exactly like Dürer’s.
Drawing on the legacy of the animal paintings of George Stubbs and the botanical illustrator Sarah Stone, Kangaroo Study Number 8 is a continuation of my fascination with the return to England in 1771 of Captain Cook. His ship caring carrying a vast number of Australian specimens of plants and animals previously unknown to Europeans, the strangest of which was a kangaroo, shot at Endeavour River for voyage naturalist Joseph Banks. McGlennon’s work seeks to locate the proud but (to European eyes) exotic animal within an unfamiliar (to Australian eyes) and equally exotic European landscape. Thus immersing itself in the dialogue that continues to this day to establish visual definitions of what was and truly is Australian.