'At its heart, realist painting offers a challenge to the viewer’s perception of time and space. For the painter, there is the difficulty of capturing the ambience of the subject, the pervading light, and the task of mastering the medium. These difficulties are integral to Naomi White’s process, and her paintings become an embrace of time, energy and conceptual presence, offering a compelling yet wordless communication. White suggested that in her paintings the viewer will find “my ‘words’”. She said, “Let the openness of the landscape speak – in atmosphere, emotion, or sound.”
The majority of the paintings in this exhibition were made during a recent residency White undertook in northern Tasmania, and visiting Victoria. Far from her home in the bush suburb of Bardon in Brisbane, her focus within these southern Australian landscapes shifted - becoming wider and more universal than her previous work. In their embrace of less populous areas and environments, they conjure an intimacy, perhaps generated by the artist’s ‘aloneness’ in these places.
The watery surface of Floating is rendered tightly against the picture plane, with an up-close verticality emphasised by the depth of reflection and shadows in the water. The changes of surface – water lilies and areas of reflected sky, dark vegetation and nuances between – draw the eye to its own narrative of possibilities. A Touch of Colour becomes an ironic understatement as it defers to the prominent orange vegetation dominating the dark and mossy rocks that form an embankment above the creek. These paintings are directed and choreographed by White’s ability to capture detail – the movement in the water, depth of reflection, shadows defined by muted light and clarity of the air. Bereft of human presence, these landscapes evoke mysterious stories, proffered by their natural wildness.
Scenes from Victorian’s wheat fields open out under soft light, with a sense of arrested stillness, a suspension of time, captured in the painting. In Falling, a grassy verge of dry vegetation extends to include a slip of bitumen road as it tops the rise, a symbol perhaps of the smallness of mankind in the context of nature. Calm Sky revels in the intensity of pastel colouration integral to clear mornings and afternoons in open country. Soft tones of pink and blue are reflected in the golden grassy paddocks. Trees defining the mid-ground and horizon lines literally and metaphorically ‘hold’ the landscape with their “wondering branches”.
The watercolours are smaller. This medium commands intimacy in its traditions and practice, and with its application, White introduces more evidence of humanity. While landscapes such as Early Morning Stroll include shadows of trees and telegraph poles reaching toward the viewer over a bitumen road, the presence conjured most strongly is White’s own, an implied, solitary one. This painting has the stillness and freshness of the early morning, awaiting the imprint and promise of the day.
The extension of White’s gaze into new landscapes has stimulated an increased interest in the ability of light to hold an experience of the present. The suspension of disbelief that realist painting may offer is allied to nature’s overwhelming force. Like nothing else, it directs our focus to the here and now.' Essay by Louise Martin-Chew, 2016
Artist Statement for Open, Naomi White's third solo exhibition at FLG:
Are you a visual thinker or do you think in the form of words?
With most people there is a graduation on a scale and they will fit somewhere in-between the two extremes. I find myself sitting quite distinctly at the visual end. I once said to a friend “that when I was born I was only given so many words and if I use them all at once I will run out”. She had a bit of a giggle because she is truly a verbal person.
My form of thinking has its fors and against. For example I can enjoy a movie with a bad script because it has amazing landscapes and imagery. I can be stimulated with the visual cues while the words just wash over me. It also allows me to sit for hours painting, not feeling the need to talk or communicate with anyone. On the other hand it can be annoying when you’re driving and your ‘visual cue’ to turn left or right, like a tree, has been chopped down. Or a label is changed in the supermarket from green to red so I am forced to read the new labeling.
But they say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ so when you look at my paintings these are my words for you. Look at them and stay quiet for a moment and use your visual thinking. Take in the scene and let the openness of the landscape speak to you. They may speak to you in words, feelings or sound. ‘Light Mist’ may make you feel wistful and calm, while with ‘Floating’ you may hear the slight movement of water and feel coolness on your skin. ‘Early Morning Walk’ may remind you of a place you have been, or a situation you have been in. It’s completely up to you.
Several of these paintings are from a residency I did at Kingsbridge Cottage, Cataract Gorge, Tasmania. Staying in this heritage listed gatekeeper cottage, built in the 1890s, gave me a base for weeks of exploration in open spaces. Being wintertime you had to rug up well to wander along the pathways beside the South Eske River. Some mornings were so heavily frosted much of the vegetation looked like it had a dusting of icing sugar. As many of my paintings work with the play of light, I found I had to be patient and wait for glimpses of sun to come over the peaks to get the language of the landscape that I wanted.
Other days I explored the countryside around Launceston and further afield. Traveling what looked like short distances on the map but really taking hours as the countryside got more rugged or you got stuck behind logging trucks or blocked with snow and ice over the road. Some towns looked like they had stayed still for 100 years.
Overall I went on a journey with open eyes took in new surroundings and felt the exhilaration of the visible land speaking in it’s own language.
I hope these paintings speak to you.
Naomi White 2016
Award winning realist painter Naomi White has been exhibiting since 2002 and has held numerous solo exhibitions around Australia. In 2015 she was awarded the Members' Choice $5,000 award at the Tattersalls Prize for Landscape painting. In 2014 she won first prize in the $18,000 Calleen Art Award, as well as being awarded one of four Commended Awards as a finalist in the 2014 Tattersall's Art Prize. In 2012, she was highly Commended for the Calleen Art Award, also winning the People’s Choice Award. She has previously been a finalist in the Tattersall‘s Art Prize, the Fleurieu Prize for Landscape, the Mosman Art Prize, the Wynne Prize and the Paddington Art Prize.