Statement

 

I make  paintings and drawings in the landscape. Since moving in 2016 from Melbourne to Castlemaine in central Victoria, my work has been mostly made in this region.  Additionally,  in recent years I  have made work at residencies in various country locations in southeast Australia.

 

While I do make small oil paintings on site, mostly I work on paper in watercolour, gouache and other media. I regularly exhibit my work on paper in contemporary national art prizes, usually held at regional galleries. My solo shows feature wall-sized installations of works on paper, pinned to the walls of regional galleries. Where these regional galleries are interstate, my preferred practise is to link the gallery exhibition to a residency, so that the work shown addresses the local landscape.

 

My art work ranges across several themes: public gardens (I mostly make this work at the Nymphaea,  in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens), landscapes made when travelling - in recent years Fiji, Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and the Thames in southwest London - and self-portraits in oils in the studio. But it is in the bush/rural landscape, in the region in which I live, that I make most of my work, by far.

 

Since coming to Castlemaine I have made countless trips to the tree’d and rocky Nuggetty Hills, 15 kms away.  Piles of rocks, stunted trees and sweeping views feature at the summit. Further down the hill, the forest thickens, trees are taller but twisted and contorted, grassed over mounds and collapsed shafts are evidence of past gold diggings.

 

My work made at this place explores a tension between connectedness – an enjoyment of being  amongst nature – and otherness (for nature is not a world of our making). Skeletal trees upright and lying dead on the forest floor, twisted and leaning tree trunks, contorted and curling branches, piled up rocks, weedy and spiky looking plants, the remnants of mining past – can seem uncommunicative, strange and even surreal. Yet simultaneously, the beauty of the bush and its living environment beckon.  These opposing qualities inform my response.

 

Plein air practise is an assertion of engagement with nature. It expresses self-awareness, aliveness, physicality, and continuity. It can be viewed as an implicit critique of, or at least presents an alternative to, an urbanised, globalised, consumerist society overly dependent on the technology of smart phones and the internet. To make work plein air is to assert that nature is a metaphor for reality, in contrast to the fractured and virtual world of screen culture.

 

Working on site I seek to convey the experiential with directness and immediacy. My response comprises a blend of the observed and imagined. I view the organic relationship between looking and mark making as intrinsic to the meaning of my work -- integrated expressions of a direct and tactile engagement with place.

 

I want the viewer to experience a sense of immersion by physically engaging in the activity of viewing that mirrors my own physical engagement when making the work. The larger the size of my work the more it embodies our experience of landscape. As I sit on the ground making my work I address the near – what is immediately about me – and the far – the distant horizon and overarching sky. The whole of landscape –  micro and macro – is experienced as environment.

 

I use standard size sheets of watercolour paper (56 x 76 cm) clipped to boards. One, two and four sheet works are favoured formats. The process of making my wall-size works differs in that I expand the work sheet by sheet, and section by section as I go. It is, I believe, an innovative process in the use of watercolour.

 

Regardless of scale, my work does not feature an “all over” kind of mark making, as is characteristic of Impressionism.  In my work each element of the landscape is represented with its own particularity and character: I lay in skies with broad transparent washes of  watercolour; rocks are likely to be defined with a patterning of dots suggestive of granular texture; grasses, foliage and branches are represented by thin, straight or curved lines of differing lengths and configurations. My pictorial language can tend to the symbolic; a patterning is apparent. Art influences that have helped shape this character to my work are: Van Gogh, Cezanne and Cubism, Paul Nash, and David Hockney. You  see this approach too in the work of Albert Namatjira.

 

I begin my art work by drawing directly on to paper or canvas, prioritizing placement and structure. When using watercolour, foregrounded detail is established early (you cannot lay lights over darks, unless using gouache). I alternate between mark making and blocking in, in tandem with my looking here and there.  The back and forth process serves to equalize positive and negative shapes: spatial relationships are defined and distance is brought to the surface of the picture plane. This flattening and patterning is a familiar trope of Modernist practice.

 

I use colour - naturalistic, heightened and invented - and tone to anchor each element to its appointed plane. I differentiate one plane from another, defining foreground, middle distance, and far distance. Near and far, depth and  flatness, are in dialogue and tension.

 

Space is our primary experience of landscape, conveyed experientially in plein air work.  It is a feature of my wall-sized work s that space is declared in a multidirectional way. No singular perspective is on display, as would be captured in a photograph. Making the larger work necessitates I look in different directions, and position my paper accordingly. The work embodies this organic looking process.

 

I believe one of the important functions of art is to inspire and give pleasure, particularly where  landscape is concerned. Beauty offers much when this is art’s mission. Beauty has a universal appeal and significance; it gives meaning and value to people’s lives, and encourages an engagement with the world around us. Beauty has a broad application to how we experience life itself. It offers hope in our troubled times.  For my own work I seek a beauty that can well convey the essential humanism of painting as an intuitive art form.