Mount Analogue is the title of an unfinished book by René Daumal which he worked on from 1939 until his death, mid-sentence, in 1944. It describes an expedition in search of a symbolic mountain – a mountain that will ‘play the role of Mount Analogue’:
Its summit must be inaccessible, but its base accessible to human beings as nature made them. It must be unique and it must exist geographically. The door to the invisible must be visible.1
René Daumal was a member of the Simplist group in Paris (1928–32), a pataphysician, a Sanskrit scholar and, later, a disciple of the occultist Gurdjieff. Mount Analogue was a parable of the spiritual journey of the Self.
Mount Analogue is also the title of my painting on 165 canvas-board panels, painted in Sydney in 1985 after a reproduction of Eugene von Guérard’s majestic landscape North-east view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko 1863. I’d often been drawn to the Snowy Mountains as a destination for summer walking and, for anyone who has climbed Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest point, there is something distinctly odd about von Guerard’s mis-named painting. From my recollection, the real Mount Kosciuszko is bereft of rocks at its summit and has the gentle rounded aspect which had strongly reminded Edmund Strezelecki in 1840 of the ‘tumulus elevated in Krakow over the tomb of the patriot Kosciusko’. Could it be that von Guerard’s expedition of 1862 had mistakenly climbed the adjoining, more spectacular and rugged (though lower), peak of Mount Townsend and his painting depicts the view from there?
In 1984, my friend Evelyn Juers passed on to me a xerox of a reproduction of a painting by the Mexican surrealist Remedios Varo. Her painting depicted a key moment in Daumal’s book, the Ascension to Mount Analogue. It was the first (and only) time I had come across a reference to Daumal’s Mount Analogue in the work of any artist, so, intrigued, I found a copy of Janet Kaplan’s book on Varo’s life and art, entitled Unexpected Journeys. Varo, who was Spanish-born, had been deeply involved with the Surrealist movement in Paris but, through a series of coincidences, ended up in Mexico City where she remained until her death.
Soon after, I began my own unexpected journeys – firstly by moving from Sydney to live in Cooma, the small country town which is the ‘gateway to the Snowy Mountains’ and thus not far from Mount Kosciuszko. Not long after arriving in Cooma, my attention was drawn to an old homoclimatic map (1945) of the Monaro–South Coast region of NSW, which compared locations in terms of their micro-climate to places all over the world. Thus Bombala was linked to London, Candelo to Johannesburg, Nimmitabel to Nairn in Scotland and Cooma with a ‘Guerrero City’ in Mexico. Although I could not find this place on any map of Mexico I had to hand, within a year or so I had been to Mexico twice and two of the most comprehensive manifestations (installations and exhibitions) of my work ever had been mounted in Mexico City and then in Monterrey in Mexico’s north!
How does this all relate to the painting, Mount Analogue? Could it be in the origin of my source, my model? For it is a little known fact that von Guerard’s Mount Kosciusko languished for many years in Mexico City (of all places!) in the collection of Senor Alfonso Ortega Urgaoe, until Daniel Thomas discovered it there in 1973 and brought it back to Australia for the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, and thus triggered von Guerard’s spectacular ascension within the pantheon of Australian art.
In the words of the late, narcoleptic poet John Anderson:
The world cannot be overcome by the analogue ‘I’.
Immants Tillers 2002
1 RenéDaumal, Mount Analogue: a novel of symbolically authentic non-Euclidean adventures in mountain climbing, Boston: Shambhala, 1992, p.14.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002