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 a still unresolved environmental 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. Representations of emotion have long been an interest of mine. But I insist that it cannot be taken too far or it becomes illustrative, as I think is the case with the work of Brett Whitely.


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 (the 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 Adolphe 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. The paint stroke is a record of the event of the painting on the canvas.

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 in the canvas rectangle. The perspective frame van Gogh employed, or a camera, has both a practical purpose but also serves to convert natural landscape (experience) to an art object.

van gogh drawing frame

On the lower left there 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 inevitably 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. At some point an artist needs to catch him or her self out doing this. It is then a good time to stop. Artists die young.

[ Click here for images of this work]


adolphe monticelli
Adolphe Monticelli c1884

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh

Frank auerbach
Frank Auerbach