Catalogue Essay by Penny Bailey BA (Hons) PhD, 2018
Naomi White’s paintings inspire audiences to reconsider their perceptions of the natural environment, from the intricate details that imprint the land, to grand and majestic skylines. Taking texture as its unifying theme, this exhibition presents a diverse body of work documenting White’s encounters with disparate iterations of the Australian landscape’s vast and consuming beauty.
White brings together scenes from the eastern coast of Tasmania and various locations across southeast Queensland to produce compelling pastiches of tranquillity and bluster, cohesion and dissonance, growth and decay. From conceptualisation through to design and fabrication, the works are visual statements attesting to her deep connection with the land and the animated undercurrents that form and sustain it. They invite audiences to consider their own interactions with natural spaces, on both the monumental and miniscule scales.
In Cape Tourville Lighthouse, for instance, White presents a rhythmic composition detailing examples of nature’s textural scope, from the craggy outcrop of the distant coastline and the bristly needles of the windswept underbrush to the smooth rock surfaces formed by prolonged exposure to the elements. The distillation of the land’s forms on the canvas into zones of texture is complemented by the calming ripples of the sea below and the enveloping softness of the clouds overhead. The effect is a spectacular array of natural shapes and textures surrounding the central manmade structure, simultaneously evoking a sense of grandeur and isolation.
By contrast, Secret Undergrowth is a detailed, empirical observation of nature that beckons the viewer to inspect the vibrancy of life unfolding near the ground. In tightly structuring the work’s composition, White draws attention to the variety of textures comprising the undergrowth, including polished and punctured leaves, and rough bark interrupted by silken patches of moss. These textural qualities are enhanced by an animated distillation of light and shadow, where the regenerative force of nature plays out in the competition among living organisms for the sustenance of sunlight. The looser brushstrokes necessitated by the coarse weave of the linen adds another element of texture, blurring the boundaries between real, remembered and imagined scenes.
Explorations in form, line and colour reinforce White’s focus on texture in Spring Baubles, where the dancing forms of everlasting flowers foreground the depiction of a terrain that is distinctly Australian. The work chronicles a fleeting moment where the synergy of permanence and change parallel the energised rhythms of the seasons. In the papery feel of the golden petals and the prickly touch of the spindly foliage behind, the work is a quiet but emotionally penetrating study capturing familiar textures, motifs and patterns in a distinctly expressive style.
White’s paintings elicit a sense of engagement, connection and wonderment. This selection of works will resonate with a broad range of viewers as it captures and honours the distinct textural attributes of the Australian landscape, documenting them in our place and time. The theme of texture also reflects the evolution and development of White’s artistic practice as she explores its dynamic potential in a variety of mediums, compelling her to ponder and conceptualise the natural world in new and innovative ways.