“Do you not see the grass, how in color they excel the emeralds [...]? Do not these stately trees seem to maintain their flourishing old age, with the only happiness of their seat being clothed with a continual spring, because no beauty here should ever fade?”
Lope de Vega, Arcadia: Prose and Verse, Spain, 16th century.
The painted gardens of Karl Maughan are idylls where flowers and foliage are resplendent with vigour and lush growth. The painter’s gardenscapes are always in full bloom and their orderly forms do not allow for the vagaries of weeds or dead branches or insect infestations; his paintings present the unattainable. They are gardens of Arcadia, where a benevolent wilderness grows free from decay or death. This feeling of abundant life is enhanced by the intense sense of movement in Maughan’s brushstrokes and his wet-on-wet application of oil paint which creates richly-hued, almost liquid layers of colour.
There is always the suggestion of a human touch in Maughan’s works – the organisation of the plantings seem too controlled to be truly wild – but at times there are hints that the garden is taking over. The bushes jostle for space in their beds and spill across the edges of verdant lawns and pathways. In Sanson, the viewer is placed front and centre, and contemplates a path which becomes more claustrophobic the further it extends. Like the poisonous orange of a monarch butterfly or karaka berry, the bright, enticing colours hint at hidden threats.
Karl Maughan’s paintings offer viewers the opportunity to relish the beauty of luxuriant colour, richly textured surfaces, and harmonious compositions. Should those viewers wish to peer a little deeper however, they can also sense the unease implicit in his painted Edens.