Over 30 years of painting, Karl Maughan’s oeuvre has shifted from the hyperreal garden-scapes of the 1990s to the textured paintings, lush with paint, that are instantly recognisable today as a ‘Maughan’. His floral subject matter has become increasingly abstracted, marked by bold brushwork and signature rounded forms layered atop one another. The works suggest an unending painterly search for the ‘ur-garden’, a Platonic ideal from which all other gardens take their form. Each variation Maughan produces is an expression of a potential landscape rather than a particular place or time.
Seen from a distance, the paintings in Southland are compositional experimentations of shape and colour. Repeated elements are collaged into layers; a raspberry-hued rhododendron appears in the mid-ground of Matau, Huroa, and Kohuratahi, but in each work it is tempered by the rearrangement of its companion trees and shrubs. Changes in shadow and colour combinations subtly alter the feeling of each painting so that a seemingly familiar scene becomes less familiar the longer you look at it.
Up close the differences between paintings become more evident. The physical movement of Maughan’s painting arm translates into movement captured on the canvas. Painting wet-on-wet, individual brushstrokes are layered over one another to build up a tactile surface. This repetitive mark-marking is woven into Maughan’s re-use and reinterpretation of visual building blocks and together they become a compelling narrative of the artist’s physical and conceptual painting process.
The herbaceous networks of stem, branch and trunk are usually obscured by the dense foliage and flowers that are produced from sweeps and stabs of the artist’s paint-loaded brush. Their impenetrable surfaces define the overall form and structure of a plant and interior structures are largely suggested by shadowy foliage or vertical flower bracts. Sculptural flax-like forms are a marked exception to this, and Maughan uses their clean shapes as a foil to the profusion of fecund, blooming colour that threatens to overwhelm.