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Claire Primrose and Kerry Johns display two distinct approaches to the Australian landscape

Art Review. Peter Haynes

Kerry Johns. Forest Subjective.

Claire Primrose. Memory Mapping.

Form Studio and Gallery

1/30 Aurora Avenue, Queanbeyan

Weekdays 10am to 3pm


Weekends 10am to 4pm

Until May 31.

These two exhibitions explore the Australian landscape. Kerry Johns looks at the gum forest at Rosedale on the far south coast of New South Wales, while Claire Primrose's sources lie in the mountains of Tasmania and in the Snowy Mountains. The markedly different topographies elicit highly individual responses but the exhibitions are united by the deeply felt attachment both artists have to the places that comprise their subject and to the importance of the painterly processes that each uses to express their attachments.

Johns is interested in the patterns of nature and in the ways those patterns are simultaneously seen and sensed by the viewer. Her palette is essentially soft with pastels ranging through greys, grey-greens, pale blue, olive and oranges predominating. The pastels are bathed in light and captured the dappled effects of light as it is filtered through the gum trees and other flora of the coastal landscape.                        

Johns works directly from the motif and uses a mixture of abstract and real forms in her depiction of places visited and loved. This mixture is a reflection of her actual experience of places, in the associated memories that happen after those places are left behind, and in the visual language that she uses to encapsulate her total experience.  For her, the actuality of places is tempered by ongoing reverberations that recur long after any initial encounter.

To depict her "experience" of nature Johns adopts a form of patterned topography. Abstract(-ed) elements interplay with real depictions of the various components of the coastal forest. The best works – Bright Order of Things, Three White Trees, Interplay and Forest Within for example – place the viewer in the same position as the artist. The panoramic vistas of the landscape are tantalisingly placed behind screens of trees that populate the front of the picture plane. This device intimates a broad sweep of landscape dotted with headlands, vegetation, inlets or whatever – the topographical components that in their combination have seduced the artist's visual sensibilities.

Johns' language is pleasingly idiosyncratic ad celebratory, a stylised hybrid of abstraction and realism that results in some beautifully realised paintings. The patterned surfaces (mostly) work well but there is a need to be careful of overworking individual paintings so that the landscape is not lost to pattern.

The title of Primrose's exhibition – Memory Mapping – is a clear exhortation of her approach to her subject,  that is the Australian landscape. This exhibition is a small (five works) but compellingly powerful example of the ongoing richness of our land as a source for creative expression. The mountainous topographies that she has chosen place her work in the tradition of the 18th-century English Romantic Sublime, that approach to the depiction of the landscape that saw its zenith in the glorious productions of Turner (and others) and that informed much of 19th-century Australian landscape painting. Here, von Guerard particularly comes to mind. However, Primrose is very much of today and has developed and beautifully demonstrates a highly individualised approach to the themes and processes of painting.

The three large paintings – Wish You Were Here, Memory Mapping 2, The Perfect Day – speak of an infinite space, present a viewpoint that looks down and across sweeping mountain vistas, yet still encompass the personal experience of the artist as she encountered the sites depicted. Primrose is not concerned with picturing the realities and topographical identity of place. While she does not ignore these qualities she prefers to pictorialise her "experience" of place and her memories of that "experience". This means in the present exhibition specific place (and consequently the geographic forms of that place) is inferred or intimated by the effective use of simple gestural lines of paint or areas of diaphanous colour. Particular visual description is eschewed in favour of subtle pictorial action. This imbues a beguiling atmospheric movement across and through the pictorial configuration of each of the works that speaks not only of the continuing cycles of nature but of the processes integral to Primrose's ways of making.