Catalogue Essay by Tess Horwitz
Annika Romeyn’s art is a call to remembrance of the natural world around us – its power and its fragility. ‘Ghosts’ responds to the riven, pockmarked landscape of Golden Gully, which Annika experienced during a Bathurst Regional Gallery Hill End Residency in 2015. Hill End has endured the legacy of the gold rush: land clearing, erosion, heavy metal contamination and the re-diversion of rivers. Trees bear witness – clinging precariously to crumbling gully walls or lying uprooted where earth has given way. Trees, too, re-inhabit and reclaim. We are faced with historical evidence of human economic greed and disregard for nature, and of nature’s slow reparations.
Damaged but gradually growing over, the landscape of Hill End seems to derive from a less rapacious time. The damage is slight compared with the proposed Adani mine in Queensland, which would destroy 28,000 hectares, consume 12 billion litres of water annually, and release 2.3 billion tonnes of thermal coal into the atmosphere. In so many ways our world is teetering on a precipice. We live in the Anthropocene Epoch where human activities are causing major shifts in the operations of nature, maybe even those parts we assumed to be immutable.
In immersive, large-scale works Annika’s body makes the marks, her hand is visible, stroking beauty into being, healing and resurrecting. The ordinary and the wounded are transformed into the magical, into realms for the imagination. Since her early studies in illustration, Annika’s practice has centred on close and patient observational drawing, which here melds with the techniques of printmaking to create in the viewer a sense of humility in the face of the complexity and longevity of trees and of nature.
“Art is a kind of mining”, writes Jane Urquhart, “The artist a variety of prospector searching for the sparkling silver of meaning in the earth”. There is so much curiosity and so much deep looking in Annika’s exquisitely detailed work. Her dramatic use of perspective forces us to look upward like ground-hugging insects. In multi-layered drawings, perspectives shift and intersect inviting us to move through and within the landscape. The earth is always there, mediating our self-image.
These works began with subtractive and direct drawing – Annika wiped away ‘light’ from a field of indigo printing ink with the pressure of her index finger wrapped in cotton rag. The monotype technique allows for a single impression, with a couple of progressively faded impressions taken from the residual ink left on the plate. These faded second-run prints, commonly referred to as ‘ghost prints’ evoked a fitting sense of memory, distance and ambiguity, which Annika worked with in further layers drawn with carbon and white pencils.
Over the softer, bluer ‘ghosts’, Annika draws the resilience of the natural world back into being. Ravaged trees and eroded earth appear animate, confounding us with their beauty and their awe-inspiring scale. These works are powerful observational investigations of the land, but they are also parables about human power and human insignificance.
Romeyn graduated with First Class Honours in Printmaking and Drawing from ANU. She has been a finalist in the 2017 Gippsland Print Award and the prestigious John Leslie Art Prize in 2014 and in the same year was the winner of the FLG Emerging Artist Award. In 2013 she was commissioned to create a unique work for the Print Council of Australia and undertook a Hill End Artist Residency in 2015. Her work has been acquired by Gippsland Regional Gallery, Arts ACT (A.C.T. Government), KPMG, Port Jackson Press Australia, The Australian National University Library, Megalo Print Studio, Print Council of Australia Inc., The State Library of Victoria, Canson Australia, Burnie Regional Art Gallery, Monash University Gippsland and The Brooklyn Art Library, New York amongst others.