How Broken Hill’s unique light has drawn generations of artists to the NSW far west
ABC Broken Hill / By Coquohalla Connor
Peter Sharp, a senior lecturer in painting and drawing at the University of New South Wales, made the same trip in the 1990s.
“I was drawn out there because it was a romantic adventure to paint the landscape,” he said.
“That place will sink its teeth into you. Everyone boomerangs, everyone goes back to it.”
Light like nowhere else
Broken Hill, the silver city, sits on the edge of the South Australian and New South Wales border, over five hours from Adelaide and a two-day drive from Sydney.
With a town most known for its mining history, why do so many artists travel from the coast to the dusty plains of far west NSW?
Peter Sharp remembers his first painting trip to Broken Hill in the 90s. (Supplied: Peter Sharp)
“The first time I went out there I was drawing outside and it was a full moon and, sure, you get full moons on the coast, but there is a lot of interference from lights and other things,” Mr Sharp said.
“I remember being able to draw [in Broken Hill] by moonlight.”
Unlike major cities, there’s no pollution in the air, and unlike on the coast there’s no sea spray.
Coupled with the flat landscape, it allows you to see for kilometres around.
Many artists who travel to Broken Hill paint plein-air, painting the landscape while outside in the elements.
Mr Sharp has painted all over the world, but says the light in far west NSW is like nowhere else.
Before the pandemic, Mr Sharp would bring students out to paint outdoors at Fowlers Gap, a station a few kilometres from Broken Hill.
“During the day the colour becomes quite blocky. If you get a cloudless, blue sky it looks like a painted drop curtain in the sky, this weird silvery ultramarine blue,” he said.
“It’s this intensity that’s tied up with distance as well, because it’s quite flat out there, so you can see a long long way.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been to another place on earth that has that light.”