A biography of painting - part 9

The tormented landscape

These most recent paintings employ the tradition of landscape painting to depict the old gold fields around Castlemaine as nature in turmoil. This is an environment that struggles to recover from the alluvial gold mining that occurred as long ago as the 1850's. Although it is a long time in the history of Australia and European settlement, in geological terms this a very recent and an still unresolved trauma.

Rather than focusing on the topographic, the paintings are expressionist, in that the images represent my own state of mind as much as that of the depicted landscape.


As I have stated previously, no artist produces work without either an explicit or implied reference to other art. In this series I am both looking at the actual landscape that has captured my attention (former gold fields) and I am also referencing the tradition of landscape painting of a particular genre.

The painting on the upper right is by Monticelli (1824-1886) who was much admired by van Gogh. His painting serves as a good example of how the paint laden brush can convey the emotive intensity of the artist. I gather this appealed to van Gogh, while his own painting was somewhat more mannered than Monticelli's. Van Gogh's was a more insistent repetitive brush stroke. The individuality of the brush stroke is what we look for as much as the artist's point of view within the scene - and their choice of subject.

In landscape painting we know that in life the scene would extend beyond the edge of the canvas but in painting it we redefine the scene in relation to how it composes within the canvas rectangle. The perspective frame van Gogh employed, or a camera, has both a physical purpose and also serves to convert natural landscape to art object.

van gogh drawing frame

Below is a landscape by Frank Auerbach who applies his paint with angular sweeps. This sort of painting can often become exceedingly mannered as the artist repeats themself or an artist adopts it as a style and attempts to give the expression a more polite and aesthetic quality. Painting tends to a kind reverse entropy in that it seeks order and a decorative function that devalues any initial intensity, or indeed honesty.

[ Click here for images of this work]


adolphe monticelli
Adolphe Monticelli c1884

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh

Frank auerbach
Frank Auerbach