Our view of the world is profoundly influenced by the method used to observe it. Beholding the raging ocean from the precipice of a cliff elicits a different response to passively viewing a smart phone video of the same vista. Indeed, the cultural/historical experience of a grand oil painting on an art gallery wall — no doubt awe-inspiring — is yet another impression of the natural world.
The artist’s role as image maker, and the method by which an artwork is made, determines the perception and the intended meaning. It is a truism of art history that, with time, perception can shift. Meanings are reconceptualised and tuned to a new audience—armed with the hindsight that history brings to our collective knowledge base.
I have always found it interesting that one of the lesser known tools of the artist throughout the golden age of landscape painting, was the “camera obscura”. This device, a simple box with a small hole in one side, required the artist to sit with their back to the view under a dark sheet, whist an image was projected onto the paper, upside down. The contours of the subject, traced by the artist, provided the scaffold by which a painting could be accurately executed. Their view was effectively a construct of science, rather than an emotional response to the subject. In our contemporary world, it is intriguing to think how many views are filtered through the camera of a smart phone, rather than the photographer enjoying the image of the ‘real thing’.
This exhibition brings artists from varying genres and visions to tell a story of how we see our world. Cultural legacies place a lens on artistic interpretations—the once nomadic artists from the Western Desert are a juxtaposition to contemporary artists who deal with the human experience of observing the landscape. These painters are recreating, morphing and drawing on the history of painting. Indeed, they push the genre to make the viewer delve into the soul of the land: the source of ‘genius loci’ as the Romans described—the protective spirit of place.
Like the camera obscura of the 17th century, this exhibition is, in a way, a distortion. The work is about place, politics and the beauty of the land. It is a powerful and moving discussion in paint about ideas and mythology that locates us and acknowledges the importance of the collective history of this land.