Karl Maughan’s luxuriant paintings, dominated by rhododendron bushes in full flower, are among the most readily identifiable works in contemporary New Zealand art.
The cultivated landscaped garden is the ongoing source of Maughan’s inspiration and provides the perfect elements in which he explores light, colour, texture and the very qualities of paint itself. Profusions of flowers ‘create harmonies of colour, give the unifying effect of light, and variegate the surface of the painting so that it all constructs into a whole that is convincing as an independent work of art.’ (1)
Maughan’s paintings are a remarkable technical achievement - his virtuosity being an utterly convincing painterly technique which can be paralleled to methods of abstraction as much as representation. Composed of deliberate brush strokes Maughan’s abundant compositions appear abstracted when examined closely yet from afar the effect is almost photographic. This apparent state of flux and realism combined with the sheer intensity of vibrant colour has an immediate impact; his paintings consequently transcend their carefully structured components and garden architecture. ‘As a viewer, it does seem as if you might just walk right into one of his large works and into a paradise far more lovingly crafted than even the most well-tended patch in the real world. In Maughan’s gardens, every leaf is rendered perfect, every branch is of even texture and every bloom is as if it was the prototype for the species....It’s just pure botanical nirvana’. (2)
Maughan draws upon the meandering path (traditionally used as a means of lending architectural structure to the garden) not only as a construct but also as a persuasive device of intrigue. Framed by layers of rhododendrons, the path teasingly leads off the picture plane inviting the viewer to engage directly with the work and question what might lie beyond.
Rich saturated hues, lively textures, dramatic light and shade enliven the paintings and establish a compelling sense of lushness and complexity. The radiant deep purples of Valley Road and Spur Road, the magnificent rich reds of Colyton and Aokautere and the gentle softness of the white flowers in Bryant Hill provide a vast and stunning contrast to the dark green foliage. The distinctive bright light of the southern hemisphere casts wonderful depths of shadow and creates a joyful dance of dappled light upon the path.
1. T J McNamara, New Zealand Herald, March 20, 2000.
2. Katie Newton, “Up The Garden Path,” Sunday, 2007.