Wilderness, a new exhibition, will bring together fourteen of Australias best contemporary painters, including Del Kathryn Barton, Daniel Boyd, Tony Clark, Louise Hearman, Mary Scott, Michael Zavros and Fiona Lowry, to consider how nature and landscape are as entwined in our minds, memories and imaginations as as they are in any empirical fact.
After viewing the work of over 60 young to mid-career painters, Wayne Tunnicliffe, senior curator, contemporary art, selected the theme of wilderness and invited these fourteen artists to participate in this exhibition.
"Wilderness" is not about observed landscape, but about imagined regions, psychological landscapes, creatures both natural and unnatural, the importance that ideas of the 'wild' still play in our minds and lives, and how we inscribe nature with memory and meaning.
The concept of Wilderness, of a land and nature unspoilt by humankind, only became prevalent as man no longer lived in the wilderness itself and urban life and cultivated nature became demarcated from untouched areas. This also removed humankind from this new notion of land, as if to say that only landscape untouched by man was wilderness, the pristine being more valuable than land on which our mark was apparent.
The idea of Wilderness, of an intact nature that predates human intervention, seems to serve an important psychological need, though in reality such areas are virtually non-existent. For the artists in this exhibition, wilderness is not an actual place but a desire to explore what nature and the wild means in our minds and imaginations.
Mary Scotts paintings are oversized close-ups of a display case of over 700 hummingbirds in the natural history museum in London. Michael Zavros meticulously painted miniature landscapes show the highly stylised, formal gardens of the 17th and early 18th centuries in which nature has been subjected to a controlling human will.
Louise Hearmans paintings also spring from a highly fertile imagination and a somewhat dark subconscious. Together they form a surreal landscape in which disembodied heads hover over clouds, young girls walk into the earth and a bird stands on the ground in front of a giant, gently grimacing mouth.
Del Kathryn Bartons vast painting We too have been there, though we shall land no more 2009 is over seven metres long and depicts a primordial scene in which glistening plants, beautifully groomed creatures and woodsprite-like figures, which could be male or female, gather around a lake, suggesting a fecund fusion of creation, nature and art.
Whereas the paintings in Wilderness are stylistically diverse, the artists are linked by a common approach to depicting a wild life that is as much within us as out there. These artists all ask us to look further at the world around us and to question just how natural nature is and what we expect to find when we look at the landscape. These paintings convey a vision of wilderness as firmly located in our psyches as it is any national park or unspoilt tract of land.
The fourteen artists are Del Kathryn Barton, Andrew Browne, Daniel Boyd, Stephen Bush, Tony Clark, Julie Fragar, Louise Hearman, Fiona Lowry, Nigel Milsom, James Morrison, Alex Pittendrigh, Mary Scott, Megan Walch and Michael Zavros.
Wilderness is the first in a new series of biennial exhibitions supported by the Balnaves Foundation. The first considers painting, the second, photography and the third, contemporary sculpture and installation.
The exhibition will be on view: 5 March 23 May 2010 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales