Hours to Sunset — Artist Statement
Susan Marie, Director UWA Extension commissioned me to design a sundial and Dr Peter Kovesi of the Centre for Exploration Targeting, calculated the position of the lines required for the shadow cast by the gnomon to show the time to sunset. I then responded with a visual artwork, mindful of incorporating Peter’s linear design as a fundamental element of both concept and composition.
The colour and style of the work was influenced by the medieval Book of Hours, an illuminated manuscript that often featured gold and lapis lazuli pigments, giving special luminosity to representations of the sky and heavenly bodies. Interestingly, this combination of old European elements, mixed with my own direct experience of painting the West Australian coast – with its own particular colours – has resulted in a work that actually rhymes well with the sensibility of the university campus and its architecture. Both involve an unlikely juxtaposition: re-worked classical and medieval designs set against a powerful West Australian light, which has its own unique intensity and clarity.
I also wanted to add some humour to the work, given that there is something delightful about constructing a sun dial in a post-industrial age, it’s a kind of ‘anachronistic chronometer’, the oddity of which ought to be embraced rather than ignored. So my imagery is intentionally amusing: the sun as an all-seeing bird regarding it’s companion, the moon, an all-seeing fish moving in the other direction (ignoring everything we know about suns and moons). Both adults and children might appreciate the playfulness of these ‘characters’ locked in some mysterious and eternal relationship. Each element is intended to remain open to interpretation, as is true of all my work as an artist and illustrator: there are no specific symbols, other than what comes to the mind of the observer.
Of course anything to do with the sun naturally has a deep hold on our imagination. In an age of digital clocks and smart-phones calendars (and whatever comes next), a sun dial might remind us of the origin of all time-keeping, as well as our most basic relationship with nature and sunlight as the principal source of life.
Shaun Tan, 2012