People and Animals At Play in an Australian Artist’s Expressive Paintings

Karen Kedmey
Jan 12, 2015 8:24PM

For British-born, Australian contemporary artist John Maitland, people, animals, and the natural settings in which they jump, dance, stroll, observe, and play are subjects most fascinating and dear. 

Working from the gut and the heart, he renders them with expressive brushstrokes, applying the paint generously. Rather than plotting out his compositions in preparatory drawings, he works out his ideas directly on the canvas, in the moment, sometimes allowing his “mistakes” to remain, such that his process of creation becomes an integral part of the finished piece. Further, he paints out-of-doors and leaves his canvases exposed to the elements so that they acquire an aged, weathered patina.

Maitland is particularly interested in people in motion. As he once explained, on the occasion of “Movement in Harmony,” his recent solo exhibition at Wentworth Galleries, “My interest in movement is overwhelming…When executed correctly, a painting of children simply kicking a ball around a field can convey all the fluidity, motion, joy and energy of action and activity; of body and soul...All this energy creates scenes of great intrigue.” Through the energy and boldness of his brushstrokes, the artist conveys the movement of the men, women, girls, and boys that populate his paintings. 

In Kite Flyer Series I (2014), for example, a large kite snaps and flutters in the foreground, while, in the background, three sketchily rendered figures look on, either guiding its flight or giving over to the will of the wind. A cricket player commands the composition titled Off the Mark (2014), shown seconds before his bat makes contact with the ball. For Maitland, there is parity between the skill and craft of athletes and that of artists. “The thousands of hours refining of the skills of the sportsperson or dancer reflect[s] my many thousands of hours refining my art,” he once said.

Karen Kedmey