The Australian Landscape, Through the Lens of Three Painters

Across many centuries, artists have labored to capture their perspectives of the natural environment around them in painting. In the 19th century, America’s first artistic school, the Hudson River School, sought to reflect the sublime elements found in the rolling hills and lush greenery of the landscape surrounding the Hudson River; in the 20th century the Fauves flocked to the Mediterranean to paint the French coastline in exuberant, saturated color and pattern; and at Wentworth Galleries today, three artists approach Australia’s landscape with varying degrees of abstraction.

In Ken Strong’s dynamic compositions of waterfront scenes, rendered in a broad range of brushwork, areas of figuration blend into swaths and strokes of abstraction. In Pittwater Lost in the Moment, a distant boathouse is painted in fine detail, while the coastline in the foreground is captured in thick, fast strokes, fusing into pure abstraction. In Harbor Essence, Strong moves still further into the realm of abstraction—all that is left to denote a harbor is a small boat in the middle distance, surrounded by colorful arcs, drips, and flourishes of paint.

Mel Brigg, a South African transplant living in Australia, similarly incorporates abstract elements into his work, conveying the epic majesty of the country’s landscapes. In A Break for Tucker, a background of golden cliffs is painted in thick strokes, imbuing them with rough texture, while in Exodus, minute figures traverse a fiery, apocalyptic—even biblical—terrain, envisioned as a flat plane of scorched earth. Paul Battams goes one step beyond, removing signs of human life altogether and painting water sources in unnaturalistic, lurid hues and flattened compositions. In Burnt Bush, Battams’s rendering of the arid Australian “bush” is so simplified that the vertical lines denoting trees recall Barnett Newman’s famous “zips.” Like Strong and Brigg, Battams captures a deeply subjective, absorbing perspective of the natural world, charged with the artist’s psychology.

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