Philip Wolfhagen in 2009

‘Journey to the source’
03.09. - 03.10.2009

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“It has been more than three years since my last exhibition in Sydney in June 2006. This long time between exhibitions was partly the result of the closure of Sherman Galleries but also self-imposed; the opportunity for a sabbatical year in the studio was very welcome.

Many events conspired to make me review my practise during this period. After some experimentation with other ideas I realized the importance of the landscape again – it seemed the only meaningful thing to paint – and coupled with the removal of a cataract in my right eye in September 2008, I could see new detail in the world and felt the desire to draw again.

The exuberance of new vision and the practice of painting again culminated in the exhibition ‘Out of the Garden’, shown in Brisbane in June. The introduction of line in these paintings was quite spontaneous and seemed a very natural extension of my lexicon of marks with the palette knife. The right instrument for inscribing the lines came easily to hand – my old printmaking burnisher was ideal with its smooth curved taper; I could vary the thickness of the line by rotating my wrist. My enjoyment of the process took over in some of these paintings resulting in claustrophobic pictorial spaces – a response to the cage of winter branches in which I live. In all my painting there should be evidence of the physical act – a testimonial of the confluence of thought and action. I was certain about the engraved line from the start.

Following these paintings of an artificial landscape I had planted, I soon felt the need to engage with the wild landscape beyond the garden, focusing on the native vegetation on the scrubby range of hills behind our house. Regular walks with the family got me thinking about how I might deal with this strangely beautiful but untidy place – most trees carry their dead branches revealing their angular growth habits (acacia and bursaria). Despite the ‘prickliness’ of the foreground all the classical elements of ‘landscape’ lay beyond; the ordered farmland calligraphy of hedgerows, creek lines, roads etc, and the constant blue line of mountains in the distance.

These compositional elements, and bringing them together into my paintings, started me thinking about the past; about John Glover who painted this landscape in the 1830’s and his hero Claude Lorrain, the great 17th century painter and often cited antecedent to all Western landscape painting. I felt the need to go back to the past in order to comprehend the landscape of the present – the one I walk in – but found it difficult to get a contemporary book on Claude Lorrain so that I could study ‘the source’. Just at this time I received a message from Dominik on the eve of his departure to Venice in June asking if he could bring anything back for me from ‘good old Europe’. Knowing it would be difficult I cheekily asked for a good book on Claude. To my astonishment and delight he succeeded in finding an out of print book in German in a publishers archives and managed to bring it home. Whilst I cannot read the text I have poured over the reproductions and it has been an invaluable resource in preparing this exhibition, to be able to consult the past at intervals whilst painting in the studio.

My break from exhibiting in 2008 has brought a new urgency to my studio activity. I feel a renewed energy and the need to test my technical facility to bring all of the ‘classical’ compositional elements of the landscape into my paintings; to see if there is any meaning left to this old language of sky and earth; of fore, middle and back GROUND.”

Philip Wolfhagen, August 2009

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