In a time when our physical horizons are constrained and our social horizons fit into a series of Zoom screens, it is more important than ever that we can continue to enjoy imagined horizons. As always, Karl Maughan’s garden vistas provide us with an escape route from the humdrum of the everyday - or do they?
Over years, Maughan has made the trope of the garden path his own. Curving into blind corners and dense growth, the paths are inviting and unsettling, and position the viewer at the moment of choosing whether or not to take the next step. The depth and slant of indigo shadows on the clay-coloured earth accentuates this sense of a singular point in time as the sun’s position is written on the soil.
The distant hills echo the blue garden-shadows and their stark outlines against the sky provide a resting place for the eyes. This horizon seems out of reach however, the solid walls of flowers and foliage give no indication of easy passage. The central walkways of Shaftesbury and Waipupu in particular stop abruptly at an impenetrable wall of trees.
In Lichfield and Kiwitahi, the plant-life threatens to overwhelm the space altogether, and bursts of purple, scarlet, cerise, and umber advance to the very edges of the canvas where the smallest sliver of empty earth remains. Maughan’s paintings allow glimpses of an unlimited world beyond, but we remain trapped in his riotous garden-enclosure.
The harsh light and richly abstract brushwork both contribute to the unreality of Maughan’s gardens, and this is further heightened by the sharp interior structure of each painting. The artist’s trees and shrubs each possess distinct flattened forms that are layered, collage-like, to build up depth within the picture plane. Accentuated by the contrast of acidic and blue greens, and the judicious use of bright shadows, each plant-element is clearly delineated from the other.
Karl Maughan’s paintings are visual siren calls. For many, his verdant garden-scapes are joyful celebrations of nature’s bounty; for some, the unchecked profusion threatens to overwhelm, leaving them trapped in Eden.