John Walker at Utopia - Reviewed

story illustration
Published Saturday, 13 April 2002

In the new tradition of landscape painting.

1n 1971 Arthur Boyd acquired the property Riversdale on the Shoalhaven River, and eight years later he also bought, the adjoining property Bundanon. In 1981 the Boyds fought to stop sand-mining on the Shoalhaven and the next year they had Bunadon declared a wildlife reserve. On Australia Day 1993, it was handed-over to the people of Australia as a creative sanctuary. Bundanon now hosts artists in residence, so that at any time there might be a small community working there, just as the Boyds had intended..

John Walker’s works from his residency at Bundanon both pay homage to the legacy and visual style of Streeton and Arthur Boyd, whilst furthering his own visual language as a direct response to living in and exploring the environment at Bundanon. It is a specific and special reaction to both the vitality and enormity of the landscape and acknowledges the dynamic forces that make and sustain the bushland. And while the works are not explicit in the issue of the bushland’s fragile coexistence with humanity it is a theme that the artist expounds in conversation and should be kept in mind when viewing the works.

With so much energy on the surface of the canvas Walker has been able to carry visually the forces that exist within both the land and the bush. Shoalhaven Ridge comprising of 9 panels is a composite view from Pulpit Rock, which faces Bundanon from across the Shoalhaven River. Beginning from the rightmost panel the eye is drawn to these short, sharp shots of the bush butted together, where the viewer is drawn into the essence of the vista. At the leftmost panel the viewer is reminded that this is not pristine virgin bushland but bears the detritus of previous settlement in the form of a wagon wheel and assorted bits of machinery.

In the larger oils Walker is intent on capturing the subjective feelings aroused by walking through the bushland as he slowly becomes acclimatized to the out of city experience. It is that impression which binds the gestured strokes to the canvas. There are seldom figures in the landscape, but at all times there is a presence which can be felt, such as the walking cloud in the center of Shoalhaven Ridge, or the reproductive fissure in the trunk of the Hollow Tree.
Stills from Amelie
Hollow Tree, 2001, oil on canvas.

The gouaches are a calmer view of the landscape and topography and are content to capture the impression of changing light and the patterns in the vegetation. These works relinquish the surface tension of the oils for a more impressionistic concern with balance between mass and space (composition) and brushwork that is more in keeping with plein-airisme.

The works from Bundanon are a concentrated vision of the landscape as it struggles to survive the various onslaughts both as part of the natural cycles and the more recent pressures from agriculture and settlement. John captures the Australian flora as surviving even though it is always in a permanently damaged state.

By Martin Shub April 4 2002

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