TEN2022: Group Exhibition
An Essay by Yenda Carson
The approaches to landscape by the artists in the Ten2022 Exhibition exemplify a departure from the familiar representations of the Australian pastoral landscape as popularised by the likes of Streeton’s heroic and grand panoramas. Amongst their influences are the modernist explorations with colour as seen in Roy de Maistres’ landscapes, and varying characterisations of the Australian landscape from later in this period.
At the time, Fred Williams challenged the ideas in Streeton and McCubbin and proponents of the Heidelberg School, with his Matisse-like flattened spaces overlaid with abstracted vertical forests. Similarly the boundless and horizonless features of artworks in this exhibition are significant and the visual anchor points completely left to the viewer to find in among the other elements in the space each artwork occupies. The ingrained notions to which audiences have become accustomed, appreciate and distinctly recognise, remain popular, though now these historical representations are somewhat literal and constrained pictures for todays’ relevance.
As contemporaries, the artworks in this exhibition validate the landscape genre by using the setting of landscape as a place for new things to happen. Instead of reproducing what is palatable to the mainstream and the familiar concerns with rural life and geographic accuracy, these artists present an array of landscapes; forestscapes, waterscapes, urbanscapes, landscape montages, invented, mysterious and imagined landscapes, to reveal highly personalised, complex and abstract expressions of self and of topical issues that invite conversations about human relationships with a place.
In this exhibition the interpretations of landscape suggest artists’ strong ideological determination worked through technical choices about how to represent their interests that don’t necessarily acknowledge or care about the past. And rightly, considering the whirlwind of weather and other catastrophic events along with the realisation of the enormity of our own impacts on the environment by population growth, urban sprawl, loss of culture and by the relentless draining of resources and habitats that for some artists’, this knowledge presses them towards stylistic choices that reflect this urgency.
There is an insertion of self into a landscape to generate the immediate connection with a place, as in Sue Lee’s flowers memorialising her mother’s garden. For others the connection is a substantial repetitive process of engagement or a sustained observation of bushland, a body of water featured in Kellie North’s photography, a beach, a rural or urban site. Purposefully or incidentally, the thematic references of the landscape traditions of the sublime, pastoral and picturesque, are apparent in this collection of artworks.
The practice working outside and returning to the studio, presides in the painting processes of Helle Cook and Paula Payne. Conceptually, the technique of contrasts and revealing through passages of light and dark, recalls the ‘Creation’ and a spiritual power. This is evident in the figurative presence in Rachel Apelt, and in Kellie North’s photography as a stillness from time devoted to carefully organised and layered imagery. The presence of artists’ self-awareness and sincere notions of beauty are truth seeking attempts that bring forth the ‘Creation’ from the imaginary and idealistic portal. The pursuit towards a deeper understanding of self, concerns about existence and our elemental presence, also alludes to a deep sensitivity and awareness of the darkness about ourselves. Carefully selected omissions, obliterations, tonal variations and placement of the components, play with a consciousness in which the darkness must balance out the light.
Painters Louise Isackson and Tiel Sievl-Keevers have grown an intensely private yet subjective and often abstracted language of detailed motifs and symbolic forms. The knowledge and application of materials emerges as the metaphorical evidence conveying the artists’ physical, textural and intangible characteristics of experience. Including the illusions of Amica Aindow, these painters make a contemporary contrast to the landscapes of heroes. The manipulated, repurposed images and iconography in the personified imagery of Robyn Kirk alongside the deliberate colour palettes, gestures to the absurd and pictorial codes invented by Stephen Nothling’s urban narratives, makes possible many new interpretations of what is familiar.
The concepts of unseen connections, distant attachment, new subliminal energies and reactions derived from topics concerning the environment loom large amongst all these artworks. There is an embracing of earthly elements, alignments with spirit, suburban passions, social consciousness and immediate connections made with others by these artists as observers, as participants, responders and protestors or as journalists bringing the news of the impacts of our collective behaviour.
Artists that directly make art about our connection to land, to places and to locations that are individually significant, is an eternal discussion about our evolving human identity, fine tuning our understanding of interconnectedness and grasping the way to navigate through these quickly changing times. Beyond the clues embedded in the rich history of the genre of landscape, there is now much more to ponder and make comment about as the very existence of land in all its diversity, is itself under imminent threat.
By Yenda Carson