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Jo Bertini, Expedition Artist

Field Work-Foot Walking 2010Jo Bertini is an Australian painter who has been travelling to remote desert regions of Australia since 1991 and for the last six years has been 'expedition artist' for Australian Desert Expeditions (ADE) on several pioneering scientific, research expeditions to inaccessible desert places.

In 2009 she accompanied an ADE expedition to a secret, sacred, aboriginal site in an isolated area of the north-west Simpson desert, where she helped to map the discovery of gypsum mourning caps, many hundreds of years old and belonging to at least 80 indigenous women, at a desert grave.With teams of archaeologists, anthropologists, botanists, ecologists and linguists; experts and leading scientists from a range of National Institutions, Museums and Universities, she has been a part of a team of significant research and exploration of the Australian deserts.

In 2010 the ADE team travelled to a sacred waterhole suspended high in the rocky escarpment of Mt Knuckey accompanied by the traditional owners, archaeologists and rock art experts. They also explored the surrounding Toomba Ranges with a team of ecologists, bat, bird and marsupial experts and collected over 500 different plant species with leading botanists and university colleagues. The extraordinary season that year and in 2011 allowed not only unprecedented research and recordings of collected material but also provided Jo with an abundance of flora, fauna, environments and landscapes transformed by the flood waters travelling into the centre from the rains in the North of the continent. The waters collecting in the claypans and flooding the creeks and swales are ‘once in a lifetime’ events, only rarely witnessed.

On these expeditions, Jo and her colleagues travel by foot accompanied by the last camel string still walking across the inland deserts of this country. A challenge of physical hardship and psychological stamina, these trips have not only educated her about the interior, its science, history and the environment but also fundamentally influenced the development of her drawings and paintings. Inspired by other female desert explorers and writers, such as Robyn Davidson, Ernestine Hill and Freya Stark, Jo Bertini creates paintings which are at once instinctive and informed tributes to the great, wild, desert expanses of our unknown continent.

There is a formidable heritage in Australia, of artists accompanying scientists on such expeditions. Artists such as Ludwig Becker who accompanied the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860 and Eugen Von Guerard who accompanied scientist Von Neumeyer to the summit of Kosciusko in 1862.  Jo is one of a only a small number of Australian artists, such as Sidney Nolan, John Olsen and Russel Drysdale, for whom, over the decades, the desert has become an essential subject. Yet very few people, especially women, have travelled to these extreme and remote areas and her particular experiences of walking and working as an artist, with pack camels is unique.

Bertini's immersion in, and acceptance of, these difficult physical conditions are a testament to her desire for the integrity of the real experience and for discovery in her own artistic journey. The mysterious secrets of indigenous history, culture and science and the access to inaccessible landscapes are fundamental to that investigation and to her paintings.


Prue Gibson,
Art Writer/Curator.