Joan Ross is a finalist in the 2023 Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW with her work Possession – Imagine if they'd cared.
In Imagine if they'd cared, Joan Ross wonders ‘what Australia would be like if the British colonisers had a caring attitude to both the original occupants and the plants and animals.’ Ross paints a couple in 18th century dress nursing a giant drooping flower – an absurd posture of loving care, incongruous with what she sees as the negligence of white settlers.
The couple are superimposed over an image of Weatherboard Falls (1863) by Eugene Von Guerard, who is celebrated for his pristine Australian landscapes painted in the tradition of the European sublime. Today known as Wentworth Falls, in the Blue Mountains, the site is in an area Ross called home for over 30 years. Her digitally manipulated and hand painted remake of Von Guerard’s work dyes the waterfall fluoro yellow – a signature colour that Ross uses as a metaphor for colonisation, playing with the power of ‘high vis’ yellow, as dangerous and alien to the landscape. The scent of colonisation is still strong, Ross says: ‘Possession is a perfume of greed.’