Paintings – distinctively visual texts

January Fires

Students studying Standard English sometimes struggle to appropriately select and analyse related material. This is quite common in Module A Experience through Language Elective 2: Distinctively Visual where students are required to examine the unique textual features that create strong images.

After studying and analysing their prescribed text, students are able to identify and discuss the key concerns represented. These become potent ideas in driving the search for related material, however, many students still benefit from teacher modelled textual analysis.

Paintings make effective related material, particularly those that extend a student’s understanding of the emotional impact shared in Amanda Lohrey’s  Vertigo. Clem Millward’s January Fires was part of the 2010 Just Imagine creative writing competition at the Wollongong City Gallery. Painted in 1994, this oil on canvas is quite large, being 122 by 153 cms.

When analysing artwork, provide students with a suitable metalanguage and vocabulary. Encourage rich discussion rather than simplistic description by considering the emotion or affect suggested by the

  • composition
  • shape
  • line
  • texture
  • colour

of the painting. Consider how this paragraph could be further developed:

January Fires is a dramatic painting by Clem Millward which effectively captures the destructive energy of an Australian bushfire. Grey and darkened hues dominate the composition, with the high horizon line focussing our attention on the blackened scrub in the foreground. The treeline curves up towards the sky where columns of smoke arc in the opposite direction and obscure an orange sun. Strong brushstrokes form an angry texture, lending energy to this devastating scene …

I have explored a number of different texts as related material for this elective, such as the music video Great Southern Landthe website Dust Echoes, and the stories of Henry Lawson. More recently, I discussed the photo essay.

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