Every landscape tells a story of how it is being used and what has happened before. In Mike Petre’s new body of paintings we witness a considerable development in his work. Acclaimed for the iconic Field Study paintings, he has now significantly broadened his narratives of localised rural experience and introduced a new palette. In Stories in the Landscape Petre goes after the hidden language of the farmed environment and what it is actually saying about role and everyday use.
Petre’s vision of the farmed environment is that of the insider. He does not romanticise nor celebrate but finds an endless suite of still lives. He presents facts – the harsh strips of sprayed verge; the upturned, reused, abandoned fish bin; the mutilated stumps and limbs of macrocarpa trees; the open, denuded (fertilised and sprayed) landscape; fences and buildings marked by rubbings and age – as signifiers, containing the history of an object and its use: that it is there for a reason, even if the only purpose may prove to be abandonment.
In Landscapes 139, 140 and 141 we see intense bright colours on the cut ends of randomly stacked logs. This is wood being weathered or stored for a mill and this colour code distinguishes the different types of wood. When cut into planks that code remains on the end and it functions as the cataloguing system of a normal rural activity.
Petre contrasts the olive bush, the painted elements, the geometry of utilitarian buildings, seemingly random or abandoned objects, hacked branches and remnant stumps, with the endless pursuit and assumptions of architectural order contained in the daily battle on every farm, and in its constantly used landscape.
This new body of work presents the environment intensely and in sharp focus. It is also very painterly, with brush and palette knife worked surfaces, strong outlines and colour overlays or bleeds. The paintings in Stories in the Landscape carry distinct languages and information in a powerfully compelling manner. They represent a major extension to Mike Petre’s narrative concerns and a significant contribution by him to the evolving New Zealand landscape tradition. These paintings examine both what is going on now and how it’s being done, and in this process help us to look, see and recognise.