The character of any painting changes with the distance of the viewer from the canvas. View a painting too closely, and the image is lost in the brush strokes; view it from too far, and the artist’s painterly skills are obscured by the beauty of the subject matter.
This general statement is seldom more true than in the paintings of Neil Frazer. From a distance, the craggy peaks and rich folded hills of Central Otago dominate. These landforms are brought to startling life in Frazer’s bold images. Look more closely, however, and Frazer’s work takes on many of the characteristics of abstract expressionism. The paint is applied wilfully and forcefully, the thick impasto imitating the rocky landscape. This hefty bravura paintwork stands in sharp contrast to the deliberately flat skies which lie behind the tops.
Many of Frazer’s early works were pure abstraction. Over the last ten years he has concentrated on his great love for the New Zealand mountains. The artist revels in the experience of being in this landscape, and his paintings reflect both the land and an attempt to convey some of this exhilaration. As he puts it, he does not paint simply what he sees, but attempts to add in information gathered from personal experience - such as long walks to mountain tops and aerial views by helicopter (1). Frazer’s work therefore transcends pure landscape to become a spiritual mapping of the explorer’s progress. The artist doesn’t simply present us with views, but takes us with him on his journey through the land.
Frazer’s latest series of painterly images focuses on the countryside around Queenstown. In paintings such as Range Peak Blue (2017) the artist makes great use of the symmetry provided by reflection on water. The contrast between the plain, clear skies and the subtle tonal variations of the lake surface add an extra dimension to these works, both metaphorically and in terms of the apparent depth of the views. The mountains relinquish some of their snowy mantle to reveal their true nature, dominating the shoreline and thrusting their walls of rock into the sky. Elsewhere, as in The Hanging Pool (2017), a similar sense of depth is provided by the masterful depiction of valley mist below the high, frozen peaks.