In 2020 Dorothy Caldwell accepted my invitation to install her work at the Periphery shortly after Bill Woods died, her partner of 50 years. Deep into the Pandemic life changed for Dorothy. We, her country friends, watched closely as concerned friends often do. Dorothy has many fans around the world; as a lover of travel, Dorothy and her work have been around the Globe, sometimes separately, occasionally together on teaching and research sojourns.
Around the same time last year, Dorothy agreed to be interviewed in her studio for a project of mine called: ‘A View from the Easel’ through the Art Gallery of Northumberland. This video interview covered a lot of turf, from her early beginnings as an American art student (painting) to the most recent work and research. What struck me most was Dorothy’s clarity of thought and insight into her own process. She is the nurturing kind, a generous personality resulting in her ability to communicate honestly through art. Dorothy has also spent her entire working life teaching around the world from the central position of her own practice. Dorothy loves learning about new things and old things. She is a discoverer, a navigator, an explorer of place and as an observer - translator of landscape (all modalities) - her work is consistently new and old at the same time. Her work is new in the sense that she interprets landscape art through research, and old or seemingly timeless as the very landscapes she explores. Environmental artists today work through many issues, connecting ideas of habitation, ecology and effects human activity on the earth as result of changes brought on by settlement. Ideas related to Indigeneity, although not overtly expressed, have always been central in Dorothy’s practice. The work presented here stems from Dorothy’s experiences of working in the Australian outback as well as residencies in the Canadian Arctic. In Australia, off and on for twelve years, she worked primarily on site in the Outback harvesting ‘ochre’ which is a pigment comprised of mineral deposits, iron oxide mostly, occurring in various locations. In Australia they still rub ochre into textiles in lieu of dyes which require a lot of water, another precious material.
In Dorothy’s work we see specificities of landscape, not in conventional landscape painting terms, but rather from a multitude of perspectives. Appearing often as aerial maps, cartographic impressions or compressed views, her work is infused with the physical materials (minerals) of the land, and as such has the duality of appearing subjectively and objectively at the same time, as bird’s-eye-views and close up experiences equally. Dorothy’s installation at the Periphery is an auspicious event as it is the first body of work to be displayed here, and Dorothy the first invited artist to make representations in this landscape.