An Aboriginal man sits cross-legged by a bay as the sun dips behind the horizon. Head slightly lowered, he is not gazing out across the water towards the developing township of Cairns or the Tablelands beyond, as the area appeared in the late nineteenth century. Rather, he seems lost in contemplation, foreboding or perhaps something worse. Lost to history. Rendered invisible. Extinguished.
Yet here he is, his profile resurrected before us in a bravura monochrome landscape, On the edge of darkness (the sun also sets), painted by Danie Mellor. It’s a view derived, in part, from the work of late colonial-era photographers such as Alfred Atkinson, who undertook field trips to document Aboriginal communities in the region while running a portrait studio in Cairns. A subject of his early portraits was Mellor’s great-great-grandmother Ellen. A Ngadjon woman from the Atherton Tablelands, Ellen was photographed over many years in his studio for her collection of formal carte de visite portraits, often with Danie’s great-grandmother May.
“There’s an important sense of remembering throughout my work,” says Mellor. “We’re part of a conversation with history, one often mediated by images. I have a strong connection to, and feeling for, photography from that period because our family archive goes back to 1908. These and other early images have shaped how I approach image-making, as a way of re-examining nostalgia and how that relates to the emotional ache of separation and distance.”
Recomposed in acrylic, oil and wash, the young man serves as a stand-in for the viewer, his head a counterpoint to the sun’s diminishing orb, his demeanour the affective focal point of a triptych that forms the centrepiece of Mellor’s new exhibition, The Sun Also Sets. Comprising sepia-tone paintings overlaid with iridescent wash as well as large-format photomontages, the series signals a new approach for the Mackay-born artist. – Tony Magnusson, excerpt from the exhibition essay.