vost cropped

Ubermensch: VOST

(Ronn Morris for Gary Willis - 2002)


It's like that Ferlinghetti poem: "In Goya's Greatest Scenes" we seem to see

The people of the world exactly at the moment when they first attained

The title 'suffering humanity'. Only in this painting of Leichhardt, all alone,

The explorer kneels with paintbrush in mouth,

And speaks with this non-tongue, his death.


Silence is a grammar. This man, with golgotha eyes, says,

My life streaks the horizon and will fade in a swirl of stars.

Once, he recalls, I wrote to that hard man, my father,

Saying, I am on top of a mountain over looking a landscape

Writ large where formerly I had crawed through narrow valleys.


How was I to know all Antipodean summits areold and small? They leach the will,

Becoming Mount hopeless, Mount Disappointment, Mount Desolation, Mount Despair.

I have become a man who lives and dies in obscurity.

This ruinous flatland speaks cleanly as it obliterates me. Its heat fires me,

It darks the flesh, and ripes the heart. It says Herr Docktor, Herr Fraud: life is bitter; your blood is sweet.


Ronn Morris - Melbourne, December, 2002.


'VOST' - Installation - Faculty Gallery - R.M.I.T. University - 2002


MALLEY POEMS - Ronn Morris - 2001

The following poems were written in response to Ern Malley’s The Darkening Ecliptic and after viewing Sidney Nolan’s accompanying paintings and calligraphic drawings in the 1974 R Alistair McAlpine publication. As you recall Ernest Lalor Malley began life as a hoax whose oeuvre and circumstances were authored by poets Douglas Stewart and James McAuley.

Douglas Douglas Stewart James McCauley

Douglas Stewart - James McCauley = Ern Malley

As Michael Heyward notes in his book, The Ern Malley Affair, (UQP, 1991): “He (Nolan) wanted to show that Malley ‘did make sense by doing a drawing of each four lines to try to prove to McAuley and Stewart that the thing did have a logic and a meaning like other forms of poetry, and it wasn’t a nonsense’” (175). This poem sequence has been written in the spirit of Nolan’s Ern Malley drawing and painting: it is to be read as a fathoming of the verse of Ern Malley and as a series of encounters with Nolan’s and Heyward’s differently compelling engagements with Malley.

In writing the following poems I acknowledge Heyward’s fine scholarship and lucid narrative style. His chapter on the trial, and in particular, on the Detective Vogelesang’s and Crown Prosector, Mr D.C. William’s interrogation of the Ern Malley poems, through the unfortunate person of Max Harris, their publisher, is particularly interesting. It is from this chapter, “Indecent, Immoral, Obscene”, and in reference to the outré notion of a policeman reading surrealist poetry as evidence of obscenity that I take the phrase, “ fingering his truncheon” (190) as subtitle for the first of the “Sonnets for the Pain”.


 The complete suite of 'Malley Poems' were completed in 2002 as part of a collaborative poerty - painting project between Ronn Morris & Gary Willis.

voss 2 Voss - Gary Willis - oil on cotton rag - 2001

Nolan: Malley Country, 1944-1974

Not knowing then that he perceived it too

I looked beyond horizon fraught with scabby leaves

And saw unrelenting haze as cataract on sky.

The vast blue stretching like Heaven’s cloth

For a hammy Atlas to hold aloft

— Pure Nolan confection.

But the painter’s china blue eyes know

That this interminable sky

Is particulate with gritty dust

It tastes like iron in the mouth

And smells like blood and wafts

Like sleep-time narcotic in these our veins.


Ronn Morris


More 'Malley Country' poems - Ronn Morris; (by arrangement)







(i)Prophylactic Measures in the Court of the Dark Surrealist Muse,

― Or, We Are Not Amused: What the Good Detective Read as He Fingered His Truncheon

(ii) Poetry, You, too, Dislike it.





Antipodean ceramics for Schellenberg


Selection of portraits (1988-2014)


Avago Gallery - Tinsheds - Sydney University - Aug. 1986

The deconstructivist's faith

The deconstructivist's faith

is to overcome disbelief

in one blind evolutionary step

into now

with one heart and one eye and many tongues

chattering a journaleze

toward the synthesis of this one moment

on clear drop

not necessarily like before

or after - but absolutely all this here

where from this side of the fence it looks like you

but our passage is in between

negotiating - empty-handed as best we can

bearing all costs in lieu of a deal

not necessarily agreement

although prices fixed by market demands

hansard terms - we loose to win - Cha Cha.


COG Gallery - Pitt St. Sydney 1987

Recurrent Theme

There is a common idea that, at the end of the day, the artist offers just one picture - like a tree bears only one fruit. In considering the significance of an artist's work in retrospect, some perspective on the nature of their qualitative offereing must be gleaned, before an accurate assesment of their contribution can be discerned. Many artists of the modernist traditions clarify their positions by removing all extraneous considerations, limiting the breadth of their focus.

I have gone out of my way to avoid such formailst processes.  The problem with reductive fomalism in art practice is that you see one show and you've seen them all, and what remains is the overarching recognition that the work reduces to a marketing exercise.  Whilst it is obvious that mastery only comes of commitment, I am concerned for the death of the poetic in process and suspicious of rigid theoretical or aesthetic positioning which supports it. If in the revery of creative experience we are prone to repetition, then I believe it is better left beyond our conscious control.

Personally I have gone out of my way to avoid reductive processes and repetitive systems.

Putting the inevitability of this 'one picture' theory to the test, on completion of each body of work I have made a point of changing the rules of production, methodology and materials, changing studios and sometimes cities. Given this practice, my work often appears to defy the protocols of proper practice, and is regularly overlooked, misunderstood, considered unworthy of serious consideration.  However there are a couple of merits in my considerations I think worthy of note.

Although since the early 1970s my practice has been notably a post-medium practice, what seems to have gone unoticed is that since the late 70s I have affected a profound commitment to the privacy of ths studio-based practice with a predilection toward intuitive processes for discerning the subject and form within the process of the production of the work itself.

Whilst my exhibitions rarely appear to bear any resemblance to each other, they are noted for a peristent sensibility, despite the world and value changes which my work has come to bear witness to. This has not been a consequence of any predetermination, in fact quite the contrary, I go out of my way to change the rules of production with each body of work so any sense of repetition becomes impossible.  Never the less what persistently arises is some sort of sensibility, which pervades each production, for better or worse.  For me this is suprising, considering the lengths I have gone to scramble the codes of consistency. In fact it fills me with as much dread as it does delight to recognise my work continues to betray a certain sensibilty which I seem powerless to change.  Although that having been said, I recognise that nothing ever really repeats itself, rather I am aware the persistent themes and issues revolve and perhaps evolve through my work.

In my defiance of the protocols of genre production, it has been the inevitablility of a specificity of sensibilty that I might have unconsciously placed my faith in.  That this specificity of sensibility is recognisable regardless of the worlds we inhabit, points beyond the limits of language, and puts an end to the illlusions of infinite expansion. Although I would not suggest I am down to a single defining image, I can at least recognise certain recurrent themes.

Given the opportuntiy of this exhibition at COG, I have selected works from six different exhibtions which serve to expose a persistent structures of language which have arisen within my creative production, despite my shifting worlds and processes. Whilst this selection is not intended to summarize the exhibitions from which they have been derived, they do serve to denote an unconscious persistence of perspective.  From CON-CREET - 1980 to Subterainian Spring' 1985 these works seem to indicate a persistent existential response to a world despite the shifts in medium and subject and indeed the very worlds that are represented within the works themselves.


Comings and Goings @ Riley Street

Darlinghust - Sydney 1987.

Sailing off into this still hour

empty-headed at the other end of this pencil

one end stuck in this grey scrawl

the other between the next stray thought,

in a bid to head-off any rising winds

I snip any rising yarn in the bud

goodbye to all that and goodbye to all this,

an end to all beginnings and a fond farewell to expectation.

Sailing through these doldrums where

ten thousand destinations arise on the whiff of one breath

and all anticipation is blanched in the rising heat

only to rise over and over again,

and puff, like a hundred thousand burnt offerings,

they blow like ashes around this silent knell.

The death of poetry and its birth collide

with echoes of the traffic below

which intermingle with the impulse to rush its cause.

Finally, the telephone leaves off

exhausted by its futile nagging,

and the bottom falls away

leaving this empty hulk hovering

somewhere between coming and going.


Painter's Gallery - Sydney - 1987

The Four Seasons

Going upstairs

burnt off

in no loves song

all thumbs and toes

and the navel's ache

of desire blinded


for an untouchables speakeasy

packed-out behind the attic store

nestled in

under the bedrom's drunk

unspeakable fire in the soul

taking the aim

of a hundred unknown soldiers

and shot burst passionless

on some hot-wired dream of escape

spun out pre-dynasty

soul against fate

on the thought which vanquishes any ill fitting orders

with one long sigh.

Too many tables and chairs

too much peck and too many pomping orders

we mere flegelings

hurled into gagging appetite

for an unknown otherness where the awesome study

becomes survival.

 Hamstrung and far flung

from the birth passage

until now when shivering release

from the rites of spring give rise to the flowering gum

sealing the deal

on the ensuite and the garbage disposal unit.

A marriage of sorts,

more matrimonial mathematique

and affairs of the heart

between the jewel and the clown

the rattle and stocks

where some old models are signed up 'under new management'

and the philosopher's chair takes flight

hiosting a tide of diplomats.

tight lipped in a storm of

I am's and Is not's,


in a cachophony of a hundred songs

all argueing the toss of one fate

the public investment

in the empire stakes.

At the peak of this plot

all hats hung on one tail

the royal commission

slips off its gravy rail

and the sun king becomes

just another voice in the crowd

jangling cash register eyes

for another revolution of hits.

Just another anthem call

we say when our kilt calls cut

and the imperative of conquest

falls against the immutability of our desire,

star wars become cold wars

and paper wars shread rheems of resistance

and privates signal general retreat

en mass.

Whilst the legless watch

the faceless call to order

meantime under the last stand

defiant whispering tones

mutter to the last drop

as the surpassing self

recalls what remaining fibre

to face another day.

Correspondence files in and out

requisitioning old orders

taking stock and checking up,

between the gift and the garb

between the l'iver and the gaul

lies a world of difference

where the final account

is to the order of the deceased

and in this finite season

you have already

the picture you postulated.

Wear what you will, if you like

it comes on first like a costume

but now settles to cloak

your crippling gate,

yesterday's hearsay

became tomorrows T.V.

and went that-a-way some time back.

The winds have changed now

not necessarily for the better

or worse,

the world turns as the crow flies

out of faith

banking futures against the past

in the exchange

privilage arrives as an informed tipster

staking all bets on the triple word score

and getting it

on whose got it

this mob whose facile pursuit


from the bottom up

to the top of all we can capture

in all too brief occlusions.

From the archaeologists journals

we see the atlas

under construction

whilst the knaves bring the toffs

and the haves tell the nots

what day it is.

On mission streets

condolences come in red and blue flashing lights

and we are chilled and sprung at the thought.

Going upstairs.


Painter's Gallery, Sydney, 1988.


Since the completion of long drawn out 'The Four Seasons' series, my work has imploded into a rapid succession of small drawings and quick paintings on paper, expressive of a need to range across a wider territory. These accumulated drawings and paintings on paper, represent an attempt to reveal the fibre of my own subconscious preoccupations and make headway in the struggle to overcome my own limits of language.

'Figurative, allegorical, humourous, graphic and expressive' a friend reminds me, but in all honesty I cannot vouch safe for such claims.   They are however not derived from external reference as much as drawn from personal experience, memory and the language of mark and paint, in the unconscious hope of some confluence between the real and the imagined. 

Ultimately the painter's practice becomes the means by which an artist negotiates the world.  In this regard I have developed a practice which transgresses a number of stylistic convetions and imaginative boundaries in a bid to pinpoint a resonant place between projection and recollection.  The work itself is a process where desire is syntheised into form in a bid to locate a future within the present.

More text in this mode available


Wolf in the after glow

Sydney 1989.

This poor dumb tongue of my heart,

this shameless wolf, knows no other name

since whose wetted appetite and instinctive homeing

draws helplessly toward your phantom roost.

blind in the guise of innocent eyes

to snuggle deep into the vaults of your tomb

and lift your timeless gift to the heavens.

lightfingered and guiltless in the ache of this lovesick night

I plunge firm into the intimate folds

sooth the tender crease of your memory

over and over again

rolling down the dimishing distance

between lost and helpless

till I unlock an unwilling hand

and shutter out a wary eye

and crawl into your consent

as if it were mine for the asking.

If only you knew

how often my remorseless love sustains itself

plundering the tender nest your plight left untended.

what quivering beast I have become

reduced to sooth my sleeepless nights

howling at the after-glow of this new-moon.

University of Melbourne - Baillieu Library - 2004

I was introduced into Aboriginal Australia in 1998 by Dr. Karmananda Saraswati, whilst I was working toward a series of paintings based on Patrick White’s myth of Voss, who disappeared into what could well have been Alyawarere country. My introduction to the Alyawarere community was through its most senior lawman, Albert Akamara Bailey; who was the chairman of the board of the Aboriginal Health Service at Utopia. To grace this auspicious meeting, the doctor of the Utopia community, Dr Karmananda Saraswati, suggested I paint Albert’s portrait for the clinic. In this context we could come to know each other. Albert’s openness to the intimate act of portraiture forged an ongoing connection with the broader Utopia community. Albert’s portrait now hangs in the clinic, along with a number of my portraits of the board members of the Utopia community health service, painted over that next several years. Significantly, each of these portraits have been painted in the context of their subject’s sacred site, as such they are all entitled; 'Sacred Title'. The success of this introduction enabled me the permission to paint the landscape and to meet people within the Utopia community.



The portraits pictured above are not of the elders but represent a selection of the portraits I painted around the various outstations which consitute Utopia.


Ten years on, in 2008, I received a call from Karmananda explaining that Albert and the Aboriginal board at Utopia now wanted to commission two large paintings.  This time of all the traditional elders of the Utopia community. It seems that the earlier portraits had documented their fragile history and substantiated their claim to land rights, but they have also had an enduring affect on the broader sense of community identity. As the Utopia outstations had begun to unite under the ‘Alyawarere Nation’ project, they have begun to value the contribution that these paintings have made to the integrity of their ongoing cultural identity. All the male elders were painted on one canvas and all the significant female law women were painted on another.  Each of these canvasses were approx 1.3 ms  X 2 ms each - making the total scape approx 1.3 ms (high) X 4 ms (wide) -  Click on 'Next' page to view images of the final  'Sacred Title' paintings, commissioned by the Aboriginal elders at Utopia.

Counihan Gallery - Brunswick Town Hall - 2009


Roll-over image for enlargement detail

Sorry Business

                 The day I was supposed to arrive at Urapuntja, the whole community had gone into Sorry Business. By the time I got there, a couple of weeks later, the Urapuntja mob had moved off to Ingwelaye, Kurrajong Bore, about 30 kms down the track. All that was left of the old camp was the rubbish blowing about in the dust. It appeared twenty or thirty gunyas, whurlies and humpies had been torn apart, stripped of anything useful and abandoned in respect of the dead. I never found out what sparked the boy to top himself, the Alyawere and Anmatyere people don’t speak of the dead.

                  It was later, through reading Baldwin Spencer, that I came to understand what Aboriginal people call Sorry Business was a very serious matter which involved public mourning, the open display of grief, ritual self-mutilation and blood letting, the systematic eradication of all traces of the presence of the deceased including the burning down their camp and finally shifting the entire community to a new location. Not attending to any of these details properly could have severe consequences for the relatives and the community in general.

                  I‘d been painting my way through the central Australian landscape transmuting the country into the language of 19th century plein-air painting. In preparation for a body of paintings on Patrick White’s myth of Voss, I wished to glean insight into Ludwig Leichhardt’s experience of the never-never and thus began painting some of the traditional landowners, in the landscapes of their own sacred sites, that dreamtime bond which confers sovereign title in central Australia, in a bid to glean some insight into Ludwig Leichhardt’s experience of the never-never.

                  The Kngwarreye family holds the sacred title for much of the land around Utopia; Urapuntja, Alparra, Arawerre, Ingwelaye, Ngkewenyerre. Tommy and Johnny Kngwarreye Jones and I were painting out on the dry riverbed of the Sandover River, when I first noticed a series of raised horizontal cicatrices, what appeared to be decorative scarring cut across his triceps. Those scars Johnny, what are they for? That’s Sorry Business, he answered with a demonstration, as if with a knife, a disinterested yet committed gashing at his shoulders, first one side and then the next and over again. There was a time when every adult male would have had these scars. They evidence the son-in-law having correctly acquitted his responsibilities to a deceased father-in-law. Not doing so could incur the wrath of the spirit of the Kuruna ,his father-in-law, , which could avenge him in a number of ways at any time, for instance, by taking away his wife. As Baldwin Spencer points out, when the eye goes the Kuruna, eventually comes out of the body and disappears in the form of the Chichurkna, a whistling bird. This creature is an image Patrick White references in Voss: I saw a white bird fly out of the bones of death, its wings opening like hands. It is considered vital to enable the Chichurkna its proper passage. If these rites are not attended to correctly there can be trouble with the evil-minded spirits such as the Eruncha or the Kudaitcha man, Old Feathery Feet as he is colloquially known. Following a death the first level of Sorry Business goes on for two weeks and then after twelve months or so later there is another process which signals the end of the mourning period. These rituals lay the spirit of the dead to rest, settling accounts, making amends, redressing the balance and gracing the community with a peace.

                  In the Baldwin Spencer photographs of 1901 we see an Arrente Widow pictured at the end of Sorry Business. Her entire body is painted with white ochre and ash Her head and face are covered with a headdress known as a Chimurillia, which is made of small bones, fur, hair, feathers and looks a bit like dreadlocks. Twelve months after her husband’s burial she wears her Chimurillia to his grave accompanied by the female contingent of her family and friends. Following further acts of self-mutilation, she throws her body onto the grave of her husband and is danced into the dirt of his tomb by the other women. Then buries her Chimurillia with her blood, her sorrows with the bones of her husband, thereby brings her period of mourning to an end.

Gary Willis - 2004