Tuesday 22 April 2008

Peter Simpson, a landscape artist, has on his website an essay by a curator who used to write for an art magazine. Among his 2004 words, Kronenberg includes some that try to locate a place for Simpson within the tradition of landscape painting as if he were somehow homeless.

He points to several obscure sources (no doubt having asked Simpson first) then brings our attention to a painting called Bruised Landscape and the "threatened ecological disaster" it intimates.

To say something similar in 2008 would sound quite pat but perhaps Kronenberg is right. I think other things more interesting for when I see the promo card, Simpson's images look in another direction: back to the future.

There is a renaissance in landscape at the moment; a figurative backlash against the acerbic wit of kid-art and street-art inspired 'comment' pieces (some very good) and highly conceptual work that doesn't 'touch' us as easily as the more well trod path.

It may have something to do with the large number of classically-trained Chinese artists working in Australia at the moment. As for Simpson, his colours hark back, for me, to the Australian impressionists.

Compare this piece - Towards Mt Darling from Graham II - in the current exhibition (from 1 May at Arthouse Gallery in Rushcutters Bay) with the following items painted by Arthur Streeton in his war artist days.

It's not just the colour - though this is what made me make a connection. It's also the effect of light. In Streeton's paintings - which you can see at the War Memorial Museum in Canberra - the 'big' sky predominates, to be sure. Privileging sky was part of their ethos of light for light's sake.

But I think Simpson has caught something of the feeling of space captured by Streeton, here, as he looks across the battered fields of northern France and Belgium. The top item is Amiens, Key of the West, and the second one is The Somme Valley Near Corbie

But Simpson also owes a tremendous amount to Lloyd Rees and Brett Whiteley. In the following item (West of Sofala II), Simpson explores the physical sensibility that Whiteley and Rees attributed to the Australian in contact with the fertile valleys of the south-east.

Without doubt Whiteley is post-Rees and, equally without doubt, Simpson is post-Whiteley. I've seen another artist with this yearning for connection with the landscape, who also paints a budding hillside, a fragrant cleft: Craig Waddell.

The Rees items here (below) are:

  • Cliff Face, Central Australia (etching)
  • Gerringong Landscape, and
  • A South Coast Road.

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