Mark Rodda

Spring Collection

Mark Rodda grew up here in the town of New Norfolk, so it is hardly surprising that his work should be so influenced by the natural environment, or in the notation of seasonal change. It is, after all, a town of distinct beauty according to the time of year. This exhibition, Spring Collection divides between imagined landscapes and abstract compositions, the latter of which read like molecular landscapes of even further interior spaces.

There has been much discussion around this seemingly incompatible binary within Rodda’s paintings, but if one allows the introduction of scale and perspective then it is impossible to not perceive the works as one in the same narrative. From slightly different angles, perhaps. The abstractions resolve into maps or plans, diagrammatic, alluding to spatial relationships. Landmarks and way-finders. On the other end of the spectrum, as with Arcadian thinktank, the sky thickens into particulate and smears of colour and light, as if a piece of the sky were caught in the temporary lens of a water drop before it falls to the earth.

Take Dense Undergrowth #3, a seemingly simple still life of foliage and fruit with a stylised branching root system overlaid upon it. Exquisitely painted, this merging of the realistic and abstract is a beautiful example of the marriage of the representational and the symbolic. Deep in the undergrowth, these fruits and seeds are in a state of dissolution – preparing for a hibernation before an explosion into the next landscape. They are pre-spring. Reflecting on the necessity of the seasonal cycle in the building of new worlds.
Of the plant within the seed.
Of the ecosystem within the plant.

Seasons are funny things. We intuit them through the shift in weather patterns, the behaviours of plants and insects, our own deeply buried circadian rhythms. We read them largely through the introduction of things which did not originate. At this time in Tasmania, we are rediscovering our three indigenous seasons “Wegtellanyta (December–April); Tunna (May–August); Pawenyapeena (September–November). Note that there are only three seasons rather than the four seasons in the European-based usage, and that the definition of Pawenyapeena corresponds exactly to the European based season spring as used in Australia. The definition of Tunna cuts across the boundary of two of the European-based seasons, with its four-month period including the late autumn month of May plus the three months of winter. The remaining season, Wegtellanyta, is the longest, encompassing the three months of summer plus the first two months of autumn in the European based calendar.”[1]

I often think about the habits of gardeners, [not having much of the raw earth to dig around in myself] their struggles with and against the natural world, their configurations and tending to these tiny pocket-natures. Of the transplanting of other cultures into our own. In New Norfolk [and most of Australia, let’s face it] our seasons are mapped according to plants we have acquired from other countries. Our leaves drift from green to gold and red because they do that in the northern hemisphere, where the lineages of these trees and plants originated.[2] We have just cultivated them enough to dress the public parks, to ornament the private ones.

The modern garden descends from the idea of the geard [old English. Jardin for old French. There are many other linguistic derivatives] which originally referred to the idea of an enclosure or fence. We’ve been building ‘gardens’ ostensibly since around 10,000BC, although these were more delineated enclosures which separated the idea of Mine from Yours or Theirs. The kitchen garden developed some time later, [Ancient Romans and Greeks, then more significantly in the middle ages] and were developed in order to grow foods and medicinal herbs. Ornamental gardens developed after this, to provide highly curated spaces of contemplation for the chronically fatigued and wealthy members of civilisation. Public parks after that, for everyone else.

The onset of trade between countries introduced and blurred aesthetics between cultures. Plants [and everything else] became exoticised and traded between colonies. We still do this on a small scale, saving and swapping seeds or clippings. Like industrious ants shifting plant material from one neighbourhood to the next.

The first botanical garden was built in Padua, Italy in 1545. First developed as a “Simples Garden” [where Simples are remedies which can be used directly from the plant, without intervention. Like, mint leaves for an infusion, or to chew] it is now home to some 6000 plants. It came to represent “the birth of science, of scientific exchanges and understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. It…made a profound contribution to the development of many modern scientific disciplines, notably botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmacy.”[3]

It's a lot of responsibility to impose on a patch of earth.
Most botanical gardens had their roots [ahem] in medicinal plants, but in the C17th their nature changed to accommodate other colonial collecting pursuits, and their prevalence coincided with the expansion of European colonies throughout the globe. Like any other museum system, they are historically problematic, with plant samples taken as treasures and propagated in environments where they do not belong, introducing foreign soils and diseases and pests into worlds far from their origins, in the taking of sacred or significant plants and removing them from knowledge-holders, decontextualising them.

In some ways this is the most visible and yet unnoticed aspect of colonialism. Roses growing in the tropics. A Mexican avocado tree fruiting in a Tasmanian neighbourhood. You could hardly believe it were possible. All of the invisible things and tiny gestures we have made to cause subtle shifts in the ecosystem, to create adaptations to climate. Growing a forest of signal repeaters, which turn on and off according to time and temperature.

Rodda’s paintings sit firmly in the imaginary, which frankly, is something we could nurture more. His sense of scale and proportion allow the propagation of ‘real’ things into the framework. His buildings integrate into their environments in ways that ours never will. They are permeable and interchangeable with the mountains and the foliage and the stone and populated with figures and creatures and pathways which ramble rather than define. Life builds them, not the other way around.

It is the way in which he integrates these works into the gallery itself however, which I find most magical. Each painting houses its own infinite environment, and we are caught at a moment of pause in the witnessing of its static surface. I imagine this as a membrane between universes. As each image draws us in, it also produces an outward counter effect; the way Rodda extends the surface of the painted plane out into the gallery space blurs the boundary of There and Here. There is an active and willing dissolution between states.

An anti-garden. A meander. A blurring back into different, uncultivated possibilities. A thing is more than its materiality. This is an act of generosity, to be so encompassing.
I prefer these worlds.

Tricky Walsh.


[1] Genevieve M. Gates and David A. Ratkowsky, Comparing indigenous and European-based concepts of seasonality for predicting macrofungal fruiting activity in Tasmania. Australasian Mycologist (2009) 28, 36–42

[2] Yes, I know we have the fagus. But that’s hardly widespread.
Our autumns are courtesy of Europe and the Americas.

[3] Taken from the inscription on the UNESCO World heritage list.