‘At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it.’ Associate Professor Andrew Truscott, Australian National University, via http://www.sciencealert.com/.
“A work of art normally behaves as if it is a statement: ‘This is a sculpture of the Old Testament hero David by Michelangelo’; or ‘This is a portrait of the Mona Lisa’. We may, of course, ask questions such as ‘Why has Michelangelo made David double life size?’ or ‘Who was this Mona Lisa?’, but these questions follow on from an acceptance of the initial statement that the artwork proposes. We accept it both as a representation and as being ipso facto art.” Godfrey, T. (1998). Conceptual Art. London: Phaidon Press Inc.
Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction in art of landscapes – natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, especially where the main subject is a wide view – with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects. The two main traditions spring from Western painting and Chinese art, going back well over a thousand years in both cases. The recognition of a spiritual element in landscape art is present from its beginnings in East Asian art, drawing on Daoism and other philosophical traditions, but in the West only becomes explicit with Romanticism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_painting
Since 2005, I have been making paintings that I call landscapes, thereby placing them within the context of the genre of landscape paintings in both the Western and East Asian painting traditions. Although as an artist who is aware of both of these traditions and incorporates ideas from them into my paintings, during the past decade of work, only one of my paintings (Kōya–san, 2014), was of a specific, actual geographical location. Simultaneously over this ten year period, as information technology has continued to develop and become increasingly fused with our lives, more and more of our time is being spent in a new and evolving online environment; a new landscape that goes beyond our actual physical space.
To give an example; it is now summer, I am sitting at home in Queenstown. I have a cellphone on the table beside me. Half of my Instagram feed is of people lying on sun-filled beaches during summer vacation, the other half is of snow covered mountains and forests. Both are happening at once on opposite sides of the world and as long as I am viewing the images, then I am experiencing beaches, snowy forests and my own living room at once and I can go in and out of all of them in milliseconds.
So what is my real “landscape”? Is it the beach or the mountains or my living room? The traditional idea may suggest it is my living room, but then from my living room I can also see mountains and a cloudy sky and trees through the window. So is my landscape the inside, or the outside of the house, or both? Is the outside necessarily any more real than watching a TV? I would say it is all of these things. Then add computers and tablets and phones and books and everything else into that mix and really we realise all of it is our landscape.
To give a different example; a workman just cut down a tree in my neighbour’s front lawn. The tree is gone, but I can remember it being there. If I look out the window, there is no tree in the landscape. If I close my eyes and remember, then the tree appears again. I know that one of these states is “real” and one is not, yet it is my belief that reality, not what is “real”, is only ever where our thoughts are at any given moment. We often describe dreams as being realistic, yet in my opinion they go beyond that into actually being reality – at least while you’re in them. If I am in bed dreaming, my reality is far more the world of the dream than the body lying motionless and unaware in bed.
Similarly, even though I may physically be sitting in my living room at home in New Zealand, if I am lost deep in memories of lying on a beach in Hawaii, then for that moment I consider my “reality” to be more in Hawaii than New Zealand. Even though of course I know I am “really” in New Zealand. If I am engaged in viewing videos or photos, at least for the minutes or seconds I am actively looking at these images, my conscious focus is very much directed at a place outside my physical body and location. If this wasn’t the case, I doubt advertising as we know it would exist. The same could be said for reading books, watching films, drifting off while listening to music, daydreaming, taking hallucinogenic drugs, engaging in a creative, imaginary act, or even occasions where the mind can seem to “divert” itself away from the body during intense physical pain or trauma. Essentially it is any moment where the mind ceases to be present and aware of the physical location and immediate surroundings and in doing so, “transports” you someplace else.
For this reason, my paintings incorporate aspects from all of these states of being to present a new landscape. A landscape where times, seasons, places, cultures, dreams, real and imagined events all come together and everything happens at once. A landscape of what painting itself is and has become. A landscape that goes beyond any intention by me as an artist, or any statement by the painting itself of being an artwork. There is no intention, there is no statement. There is no story I am trying to tell, no meaning I am trying to communicate. Instead, the paintings themselves are simply presentations of information from the bias of my own experience, with which the viewer is then free to engage and interpret in their own terms. Some of this is based upon their own unique, individual experiences and some of it will be the shared experiences of us both, or culture and society at large.
Therefore, unlike Michelangelo’s “David” or da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, the latest paintings I have made for this exhibition do not state anything other than that they are just paintings. Yes they have representational elements like trees and mountains and figures, which are ways to engage or enter the works, but they do not become art until they are seen. It is only through this viewing and interpretation of the paintings that they can simultaneously be viewed as both objects and materials, as well as art that conceptually engages the viewer.
Even though during the making of the paintings each element suggests the next, it is not until the work is complete that I can begin to view it as a whole and engage the work as a viewer myself. For this reason, despite any feelings or thoughts I may have had during the making of the work, I have no more of an idea, nor could be considered any more of an authority on what the work “means” than anyone else. There is no meaning other than what each person choses to place upon it, nor is there any single way, either “right” or “wrong”, to view or interpret any of these new paintings.
Finally, another aspect that sets these new works apart and further removes any statement or intention from me as an artist, is the fact that many of the patterns left by the pigments also suggest multiple associations to different people. One example is how people have told me they can see owls in one painting that I had neither “seen’ nor even thought of myself. Likewise, what someone sees as a bird may be a cloud, or what someone sees as an eye, may really be just the way the paint settled.
As humans we are pre-programmed to recognise patterns and especially faces. Making out images in random patterns, like seeing the shape of a horse in the clouds, is called pareidolia. As an artist I encourage a pareidolic response to the dried, random pigments to form the basis of the landscapes while I am making the works, but it seems inevitable that someone else may have a different response.
Therefore what I always considered to look like a cloud, may in turn look like a tsunami, or a storm, or the edge of a forest, or a mountain, or a nuclear blast, or a tropical paradise, or even a fiery planet to another viewer. No one is right, no one is wrong. It is all and one and none of these things. The work does not state anything, it is simply materials and colour and outlines. Only when viewed and engaged does it become art.
This is my painting. This is the new landscape both us and painting now occupy. This is the new landscape painting.