In search of a Tropical Gothic in Australian visual arts

Mark Wolff


The field of Gothic Studies concentrates almost exclusively on literature, cinema and popular culture. While Gothic themes in the visual arts of the Romantic period are well documented, and there is sporadic discussion about the re-emergence of the Gothic in contemporary visual arts, there is little to be found that addresses the Gothic in northern or tropical Australia. A broad review of largely European visual arts in tropical Australia reveals that Gothic themes and motifs tend to centre on aspects of the landscape. During Australia’s early colonial period, the northern landscape is portrayed as a place of uncanny astonishment. An Australian Tropical Gothic re-appears for early modernists as a desolate landscape that embodies a mythology of peril, tragedy and despair. Finally, for a new wave of contemporary artists, including some significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, Gothic motifs emerge to animate tropical landscapes and draw attention to issues of environmental degradation and the dispossession of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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