Overdevelopment and overpopulation in Australia wreck a lot of things, but some of you might not have thought about how they wreck art. The other day a very 'successful' Australian landscape artist, who sells his paintings for several thousand each, observed that thirty years ago he used to sell his paintings for an average of $3000 each and he still does. "Problem is," he observed, "My house, which cost $60,000 then, is now worth close to a million. Paintings have not gone up. What does it mean? It means that, where I used to make a comfortable living from my paintings, I'm now obliged to run classes in my garage, and it's increasingly difficult to make ends meet. "
"Furthermore," he said, "When I first started out, gallery commissions were in the region of 15 or 20%. Now they're 40 and 50%! When I deduct the costs of my time, running my car, materials, rates, and $150 for a frame, the 50% for the gallery commission, from a painting I might sell for $1000, I finish up with about $100."
The massive rise in the percentage taken from sales by art galleries is a reflection of the rise in the cost of land, which is a reflection of demand. For the last three decades, demand has been artificially inflated by Australian governments via massive population growth engineering. Renting or owning a shop costs far more than it did 30 years ago, much more than it did 50 years ago.
There are other problems associated with population growth. Try finding a quiet place to do a landscape! Try to find a natural landscape!
Recently a friend and I set up our easles at the top of a hill in a small patch of unfenced bushland by the side of a road in Mt Eliza. It wasn't an optimal subject, but beggars cannot be choosers. After about an hour and a half, my companion observed crossly, "Look some buggers are driving 4WDs right in front of us!" She was expostulating further, but stopped spluttering as one of them got out of his car and walked over to us. Showing no interest in our painting or compassion for our subject, he said, "Sorry ladies, the gentleman who owns this property wants to mow it, and you're in the way."
And then there was the fiasco when we went to paint from the foot of the cliffs around from the dog-beach next to Safety Beach, Mount Martha. It was a Monday, so sure to be quiet. It was a dog-beach, so any activities there were would be low key. Heavily burdened with equipment, we picked our way painfully and perilously across a jagged granodiorite shelf beneath the cliffs, to take advantage of two hours of low tide.
The people and dogs on the beach were not a problem, but the beach is next door to a marina that property developers recently carved out brutally to create a canal-estate out of a pleasant natural area. As we set up our easles in a near-blinding haze of glaring sun and reflections, the sea erupted with noisy jet-skis, and motorised yachts, some the size of small ships. They came out of the marina entrance, like a plague of loud and smelly motorised locusts, did a right turn, putted, revved and snorted a few hundred meters, then threw their anchors down just off-shore from us. Inflated reddened human bodies, splashing and oafishly calling to each other, filled the potentially peaceful scene, thirty meters from the shelf we stood on.
I had forgotten that it was Australia day in 2019, no doubt quite a different phenomenon, in terms of traffic and natural surroundings, from the first such celebration on 26 January in 1808.
Overpopulation has added to the plein-air painter's endemic problems of mosquitoes, sunburn, and sunstroke. Population growth forces artists to go further and further out or to settle for mutilated landscapes with vaguely natural narrow views between housing estates. Eventually, as you go further out, you come up against suspicious farmers, wondering if you are cattle rustlers.
There is actually almost no natural commons left. You can't just pitch a tent on a hill with a great view. It's all fenced. If the farmers don't shoot you, the cars will get you and your easle on the roadside, by pollution or collision.
Bird-hides in wetlands offer unusual comfort, with squared off viewing spaces, tables and seating. The shelves for binoculars adapt well as places to rest pallets, turps containers and paint-tubes. The problem is that wetlands, once part of more varied surrounds, now usually consist of small reedy spaces of desolate flatness surrounded by housing estates. It is difficult to make something out of this. Despite the protection from the sun, the rain and the wind, wetlands-painting from bird-hides offers thin rewards. We recently went to Edithvale wetlands, in part to find a migratory bird for an ecological project. We were there for four hours. It was hard to leave, due to the unaccustomed comfort. During those hours the hide was visited by three busloads of people and we gave directions to many visitors about where to find the toilets. One man complained that he had responded to advertising about Edithvale's wonderful wetland, but there was nothing to see for his busload of very elderly people. It is true that we only saw a few moorhens among the reeds and a couple of pigeons in a tree that day. Where was the restaurant, he wanted to know, and the toilets, of course.
National Parks and other Reserves
Unless you are able to spend days hiking into the reserve wilderness (where you are no longer allowed to pitch a tent), you are stuck with the average viewpoint close to the entrance (painted many times before) where it is hard to relax, due to international busloads. And you can't take your dogs anymore for a lovely companionable exploration. On the surface, it seems reasonable to ban dogs from natural reserves, but I cannot help thinking that all the people who used to walk with their dogs in national parks, have been replaced by busloads of overseas tourists, who have no deep knowledge or attachment to these spaces. There are not many spaces I can take my dogs and paint because, as I have said, there are not many natural spaces between agricultural land and sprawling suburbs. The dogs rightly expect to accompany me on walks, so I have to ration their walks to accommodate my paintings. This was not a problem when we were a much smaller population. Aboriginals had at least 60,000 wonderful years before overpopulation and development came to destroy these shores. Namatjira would have to go a long way out into the desert these days to find a scene without a tourist bus.