Catching the Indian Pacific to Rosalie Gascoigne’s ‘Monaro’
by Phillip Hall
I am fossicking through my bucket list, transcontinental adventure kitsch where all-inclusive opulence means: I don’t lift a finger; and crafted brass detailing is a bitter-sweet acacia’s bumblebee bloom: Just before boarding an anxiety attack has me foundering maybe a daughter could be spirited away, saving me but a partner’s discreetly attentive firmness ushers me to a luxuriously appointed suite: In truth, my odyssey is the Viking trail from York to Orkney Islands, but scared of flight I have outlived usefulness, like this classic age of rail, so I prowl the trackside ditches of mental decline for poignancy in rusty corrugated iron, the bricolage of Rosalie’s dried thistle stalks: On this train the booze is ‘free’ accordingly, I’m soon scotching along with George Mackay Brown’s Collected, and crying out against idiot-royals and that orange trumper fool, upsetting decency and reaffirming beliefs sorry, I’m bloody useless: Thank god for Americans who are overpaid and over here a young widowed, champion sailor with two daughters and an admiral dad, and a retired teacher couple who’d actually known Ursula Le Guin: they gave me incentive to whisper sober into winds like a wizard of Earthsea fleeing foul shadow-beasts in the delight of Laser Class single-sailor dinghies: I am my own worst enemy, frustrating verbal recognition in anxieties and cryptic clues, searching for secrets in Rosalie’s assemblage of fragments propped precariously: Because, even amidst this railway luxury and indulged bubble, the shadow I carry is a cardboard coffin and surrender: And so finally, I enter the gallery where a collection is a beehive’s royal jelly, the wheat-field of arcadia waving across Rosalie’s bands and grids to cross-hatched tesserae and herringbones of narrow strips, here to be airborne is a cache of recycled, battered and worn mass produced packing cases, stenciled with brand names, and cut with her band saw into ever thinner slivers: Here, the scratch marks are the bold and ungentle joy of wanting in.
Rosalie Gascoigne: I wish I were one of her assemblages. I love all of her work, but my favourite has always been ‘Monaro’ (1989, synthetic polymer paint on sawn and split soft-drink wooden crates on plywood, Art Gallery of Western Australia). For a long time, I knew this astonishing assemblage only in reproduction, but in early 2019 I had the chance to travel to Perth, & meet this work in person. Whilst there I also introduced myself to ‘Hung Fire’ (1995, retroflective road sign on wood, Art Gallery of Western Australia). George Mackay Brown is a wonderful Orkney poet (1921-1996) who, like me, self-medicated for much of his adult life with grog’s sly mouthful. Ursula K Le Guin (1929-2018) is a bestselling American poetry, fantasy & science fiction writer. She is perhaps best remembered for her Wizard of Earthsea books. This poem also owes a debt to: Christopher Allen, Art in Australia: From Colonization to Postmodernism (Thames & Hudson, 1997); & Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne (Regaro, 1998).
A reproduction of a selection of works by Rosalie Gascoigne (including ‘Monaro’) can be found at: https://www.inkahoots.com.au/ideas/i_62-junkscape-poetry