A subject as old as art itself, the natural landscape has been captivating artists for centuries. Often comprising more than meets the eye, landscapes have been used to convey belief in the divine, as in the awesome American vistas of the Hudson River School; to explore light, color, and the process of perception, as in Impressionist compositions; and as tools of propaganda during the Cultural Revolution, shown worked into fertile abundance by the apple-cheeked proletariat, or representing the grand and infinite scope of Mao’s rule. For Ken Strong, who has been concentrating on the rich and varied vistas of his native Australia for more than two decades, the landscape is a bottomless well of visual fascination. “The landscape is never static,” he explains. “It is a continuum of moving and merging images, changing texture, secrets concealed in shadow and subtle detail.” In a series of new works currently on view in his solo exhibition at Wentworth Galleries, the artist captures this continuum in lush, oil-on-canvas paintings, full of feeling for the particular beauty of each scene.
By merging abstraction and representation, Strong effectively conveys the dynamism of nature and its shifting play of light, shadow, color, and reflection. This is especially apparent in the bodies of water foregrounding many of his works, like Brooklyn Tug or Hawkesbury Weekend (both 2014), which contain the colors of the sky and ringing landmasses, rendered in assortments of thick, abstract, vigorous brushstrokes. In Sentinels (2014), a patchwork of glowing colors—red, gold, browns, deep green, white, touches of sky blue—resolves into an intimate view of a wood and the slender, pale trunks of two trees, the “sentinels” which give the work its title. So too in Falling Poppies (2014), in which two tiny, white-clad figures make their way across a hill composed of a tumble of brushstrokes.
“Whether a powerful seascape, a flat desert in blazing heat, a precipitate cliff, or a black reedy backwater, [a]ll have a potential vibrancy, a hidden well of energy that can be revealed with a light flick or textured fold of paint,” states Strong, who, with every flick of his brush, makes nature come alive on the canvas.