“My main objective is to astound people. I like them to look at something and it takes their breath away.” (1)
There are no paintings of gardens in New Zealand quite as familiar as those of Karl Maughan. Since his first solo exhibition in 1987, Maughan’s commitment to the garden as a framework for painting has been enduring. His practice is invitational, immersive and obsessive. He is a constructor of worlds, compiling and piecing together imagery to create gardens that emanate a sense of possibility, mystery and delight. (2)
Surely there are few New Zealand artists whose works are as instantly recognisable as the hyper-real canvases of Karl Maughan, whose paintings of gardens have become a kind of cultural landmark. Despite their heightened colour and densely ordered composition, they carry a paradoxical sense of something darker as well, a sense of vague menace that the subject matter and handling ought not be allowed to convey. (3)
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. (4)
In 1986 Maughan earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland and completed one year of a Master of Fine Arts in 1987. He has been exhibiting regularly since then and spent much of the 1990s in London where his works caught the attention of British arts benefactor Charles Saatchi. Inclusion in the Saatchi Gallery’s exhibitions The Neurotic Realism (1998) and I’m a Camera (2001) followed. During his time in London Maughan was a finalist in the prestigious John Moore London Awards. (3) He returned to New Zealand in 2005 and is now based in Wellington. Maughan’s works can be seen in private homes, corporate collections, and public institutions throughout the country and abroad.
Karl Maughan talks to Vanessa Jones about the works in his newest exhibition at Milford Galleries Dunedin.
Video production: Ross Wilson