The City of Levees

Joe Frost, View of Maitland, 2006

Joe Frost (1974-) painted this work for the exhibition View of Maitland from the riverbank (with apologies to Jan Vermeer and View of Delft), shown at Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) in 2006. Alongside eleven other commissioned artists, Frost painted a view of Maitland on a canvas the same size as that used by the Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer, for his painting, A view of Delft (1663).  Over the course of two weekends, twelve artists gathered on the riverbank to paint, sketch and draw the view of the city while members of the community wandered amongst them.

The resulting exhibition drew parallels between the two cities of Delft and Maitland, while at the same time expressing the individual style of each artist and their vision of Maitland in 2006. The city of Delft, like Maitland, owes its existence to the body of water on which it is situated. Delft lies on a canal connected to a port on the river Maas, and Maitland lies on the Hunter River, connected to the once navigable port of Morpeth. Both towns have been impacted by dramatic events: for Delft, it was the explosion of a gunpowder store in 1654 that flattened much of the city, for Maitland it was the flood of 1955, which destroyed buildings, claimed lives and forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 people.

The devastating 1955 flood resulted in the construction of an extensive levee and floodway system in Maitland. The buildings that Frost depicts in his evocative and gestural brushstrokes rise above the banks of the levee designed to protect the city from inundation. A year after he painted it, in June 2007, Maitland was again threatened with rising waters. Residents stood on the riverbanks and watched as the water rose, but thanks to the levee, their homes and businesses were protected.