The Southern Landscape – landscape or mindscape?
Is it concerning the land? Is it an impression of the land in the mind? Is it the impact on the mind and how we then feel or act?
In the hands of our major painters the southern landscape is revealed in layered detail, subject focus and meaning. The artist has presented/manipulated the landscape for a purpose. The landscape carries messages, points of view and is introduced as an agent both for and of change.
Witness the way realism from the brush of two of New Zealand’s leading exponents, Michael Hight and Mark Cross change the way people view the landscape. After a close encounter with Hight’s beehives (Gibbston, 2005) the viewer will never again glance on the landscape with an innocent eye.
So too has Mark Cross refreshed our view of what was familiar about the raw Central Otago landscape - one seemingly devoid of water. Cross’s exquisite skill draws the eye from afar to reveal richness, texture and the fullness (Idaburn, 2004) in what previous exponents saw as an empty or parched land. Unlike other classic paintings of this region, Cross uses the existing strong colours to illuminate the richness of the place and to further contradict the image of a drab parched land. Pristine Artifice, (2005) is extraordinary. It challenges outdated perceptions by subverting the gaze from the scorched rocky hills and beckoning the thirsty body into an idyllic quenching watery world – how can this oasis, so fecund, be Central Otago, so barren, or is it clever trickery or mirage? His new vista has made the land fresh, appealing and exciting again.
Cross and Hight make strong reference to the human colonisation of the land – through the marks of man. Hight’s implied bees with workers and drones are a symbol of industry while Cross’s willows are utterly at home in his oasis, so complete is the colonisation of our mindscape that we accept them as being natural. The trick is to remember that synonymous (like the Central Otago thyme) need not mean indigenous.
Notman’s realism paintings have a beguiling familiarity about them. At first glance they represent the ‘good times’ and play on a sense of nostalgia within the depiction of the familiar in New Zealand coastal settlements (Private Property No 1 (2004)). Portobello, 2005 is more complex than previous works, rummaging deeper into the New Zealand way of life that was once homegrown, handmade and DIY. Now Notman is looking into our literal and figurative backyards and checking the washing laid bare for all to see – this ‘simpler’ life has no need to be private or anonymous or shelter behind masking fences. At the same time notice how readily your eye, like a stray dog, 'wanders' into someone else's backyard. Notman may also be asking where have those times gone and are we any better for the change. Close by are further probing questions about how we relate to our coastal margin, the contradiction of ‘sophisticated’ city-life and the passing of time. A bold new landscape surprisingly close to home.
Looking back to the coast (-land, New Zealand) from just off shore Peter James Smith (expatriate in Australia) overlays past and present with a contemporary presentation (cinematic) that references a romantic era of exploration and painting. In doing so Smith’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner (2005) places Coleridge’s epic, refreshed, at our feet and with the precision of a mathematician questions how the future will judge the present. Should we marvel the albatross, take warning from the beacon or both?
From the landscapes of Scott McFarlane, Garry Currin and Elizabeth Rees enigmas, contradictions and puzzles grip our attention and entrance the mind.
In McFarlane’s work “some emotion is always lurking that reaches beyond the physical into the realms of psychology and memory. They are melancholy and ominous … mysterious and magical …”(1)
Misty, mysterious and magical equally apply to the salt weathered canvases of Garry Currin (Cooks Gaze, 2004). “He paints as if mixing rare elixirs with rancid oils. He’s a lyricist in paint, coaxing moody landscapes out of tangled streaks and veils of colour” (2).
Elizabeth Rees presents landscapes full of paradox and contradiction in a manner that plays with the viewers’ mind and constructs of time. As most of the artists in this exhibition Rees lays out two views equally successfully - one as landscapes and the other as mindscapes.
1. T J McNamara, “Puzzles of Mystery and Emotion” Exhibition Review, New Zealand Herald, March 9, 2005.
2. David Eggleton, “Garry Currin The Painter as Salvage Artist,” Art New Zealand, No. 94, Autumn 2000.