John WOLSELEY, not titled [A journey near Ormiston Gorge in search of rare grasshoppers]. Enlarge 1 /1


Somerset, England born 1938

  • France 1961-63
  • Europe 1971, 1974-75
  • Australia from 1976

not titled [A journey near Ormiston Gorge in search of rare grasshoppers]. (1979-80) Place made: Ormiston Gorge, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, watercolours, drawing in black pencil, pen and ink, gouache and watercolour Support: 80 sheets of paper mounted on canvas

Primary Insc: not signed. Dated centre right as part of inscriptions on work in pen and black ink, '18/12/79'. not titled.
Dimensions: image 183.0 h x 294.5 w cm sheet (overall) 183.0 h x 294.5 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.2173
Image rights: © John Wolseley. Licensed by Viscopy
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Rex Irwin Gallery, September 1980.

John Wolseley is an artist who has concerned himself with the broader questions of the landscape and the environment for most of his life. He is an unusual artist whom Australians at times describe as a ‘pommy eccentric’, a 19th-century gentleman naturalist and obsessive watercolourist, while Europeans tend to see him as being preoccupied with lines of mystic energy in the land and with various forms of Asian Zen mysticism. He is unconventional, his work does not fit neatly into any pre-established school of art or pattern of thinking, yet his sprawling map-like paintings have always been highly regarded and, as a draughtsman and watercolourist, he is a consummate technician.

A journey near Ormiston Gorge in search of rare grasshoppers appears as a cross between a cartographic depiction – a journey through time and space – and an intimate visual and verbal journal of exploration. It involves both the artist and his viewer on a journey through texts and systems of visualisation, where chance and accident combine with some of the more deliberate strategies of art making. All of this is employed in pursuit of the elusive grasshopper. The viewer is not an objective witness but is an active participant in this intricate, elaborate treasure map of exploration. The little squares of the surface grid relate to pages from the artist’s journal, the subdued colours reflect the actual tonality of the landscape around the gorge, while detailed draughtsmanship describes insect life, like tiny pockets of life energy. 

Sasha Grishin 2002

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002