Pull Focus: Danie Mellor, “The life of shadows [bala wurrmburr jubaru]”

20 Nov 2021

“Darkness pervades The life of shadows [bala wurrmburr jubaru], its layers giving up their strata of detail slowly. Danie Mellor, known for beautiful and evocative paintings, prints and sculptures that have used blue as a primary base for imagery, changed the focus of his photography in 2018. Previously, Mellor used the camera as a sketchbook tool, but after showing his photographs in 2015, this prompted an exploration of the history of the medium. He began to pursue abstract images which capture light, toward a more existential pursuit. He wondered, “is there a way that we can capture a world beyond this one?”

He ventured into the rainforest landscape in north Queensland that is his Country and touchstone, using infra-red photography to reveal wavelengths outside the range of the human eye. He found in this mode of image-capture a powerful way to speak symbolically about the presences in the landscape, but also about, “what ancestral presence is, and a sense of our own place, looking into an environment that is both physical and elusive. It becomes an intangible space of imagination.”

Mellor has explored conversations about people, Country, Australia’s post-settlement history and landscape throughout his career. In The life of shadows [bala wurrmburr jubaru] he depicts, what he describes as, “a deathless realm, a poetic way of talking about ongoing life”. The skull that dominates the image evokes a sense of memento mori: Mellor says he was “also trying to imagine a world that was dreamed through the eyes of a skull”.

This image was created through multiple processes, which include layering archival images of the area into his own photographs, and photographing these projections on the wall of his studio. This has added a different kind of luminosity to the light captured. Also incorporating infra-red photography, the image has a degraded quality (a bit like a negative) that evokes the histories of this place. 

In the title, bala wurrmburr jubaru loosely translates to a notion of bones being present. For Mellor, this does not necessarily speak to human remains, but more a human presence. Its printing, on pearlescent paper, adds to the richness of gold and silver layers, and conjures the dark shininess of the moist foliage in the rainforest. In its detail and density is the requirement of time, with a sombre presence shifting both our consciousness and understanding into the hidden histories of this place.”

Louise Martin-Chew from Art Collector discusses Danie Mellor’s latest work ‘The life of shadows [bala wurrmburr jubaru]’ on view as part of our presentation at Sydney Contemporary 2021 online.

Image: Danie Mellor, The life of shadows [bala wurrmburr jubaru], 2021, chromogenic print on metallic photographic paper, edition of 3 + 2 AP, 118 x 204 cm.