Motivated by the surreal but temperate South Australian landscape of her formative years, Clare Robertson sought to understand extremes of climate and landform – the dominant subject-matter of her art.

She moved to Darwin in 1977 attracted by its thunderstorms and dramatic grassfires. Exposure to these tropical phenomena further stimulated her interest in other extremes, including those of the polar regions.

A field trip in 1982 to the Arctic, visiting Iceland (near-arctic, new and volcanic) and neighbouring Greenland (arctic and geologically ancient) saw the beginnings of Clare’s Extreme Landforms Project. This evolved over the following 15 years into a linked series of 4 major exhibitions of paintings and drawings and encompassed work from these sites plus Antarctica, Hawaiian Volcanoes, and Northern Australia. Extreme Landforms (over 70 pieces) was shown as a whole at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in 1997.

The Antarctic paintings were first exhibited in Parliament House, Canberra, in 1991 and subsequently in Darwin, Tasmania and Alice Springs. Some toured regional galleries in Tasmania. A set of postage stamps featuring 4 of these paintings was issued in 1996 by Australia Post for the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Clare’s more recent work has included a field trip to East Timor with the Australian army, while the province was still under INTERFET administration. Work in progress deals with underground and open-cut mining.

Antarctic impression

The sea voyage to Antarctica is one of the world’s great journeys and it was a rare privilege to have been selected to join Voyage 6 in the summer of 1988–89. I was acutely conscious of the obligation to make the best possible use of this experience. I hoped that through my series of large and dramatic paintings the public would have an increased understanding of the reality of Antarctica as a continent to be treasured rather than as a vague abstraction that they were unlikely to see for themselves.

The emotional message of all my Antarctic works is of beauty and fear inextricably combined. There is a sense of irredeemable loss, of the empty stage, because I may never see that most beautiful of continents again. After Antarctica everything else must be second best.