The shape of wa­ter

Ju­lian Meagher to widen his world view as seen in his lu­mi­nous new work.

Belle - - Who R I Ght Now - A brush with na­ture led

A change of

scenery led to a shift in tide for the artist Ju­lian Meagher. The cul­mi­na­tion of a month-long res­i­dency at Mi­mosa Rocks Na­tional Park un­der the aus­pices of Bega Val­ley Re­gional Gallery, his new se­ries ‘In­let/out­let’ rep­re­sents a break from fig­u­ra­tive still-life stud­ies to­wards a wilder, more in­tu­itive style cen­tred on the land­scape.

“To be hon­est I was in a bit of a cre­ative rut at the time,” says the two-time Archibald fi­nal­ist. “I’d been paint­ing still life for a few years and had gone as far as I could with that for the time be­ing, so I was look­ing to paint some­thing dif­fer­ent. That’s why res­i­den­cies are so good in that they can sling you out into think­ing dif­fer­ently and tak­ing risks.” Liv­ing at the his­toric Myer House, Ju­lian spent his days sketch­ing and fish­ing around Bithry In­let, ob­serv­ing its ebbs and flows. “I had a re­li­gious ex­pe­ri­ence down there,” he says. “The Sap­phire Coast is quite unique be­cause the sand is very white so the wa­ter is very blue, and it’s a wide in­let so you get this sense of move­ment. You re­ally feel that pull of the tides, and the bell­birds give it a kind of sur­real sound­track.”

Be­ing in the land­scape and be­com­ing at­tuned to its daily rhythms took on an even greater res­o­nance for Ju­lian, since he was on the cusp of be­com­ing a fa­ther. “It was quite a mo­men­tous time in terms of think­ing about cy­cles and change, let­ting go of con­trol, be­ing more of a pas­sen­ger, less of a driver,” he says. “That fed back into the paint­ings. When I would put a mark down, I would try to leave it, let it breathe and have its own life.” This was crys­tallised while work­ing with a vis­ually im­paired stu­dent in the res­i­dency’s teach­ing pro­gram. “He was paint­ing from me­mory and it made me think, I’ve got to have that sim­i­lar ap­proach to my paint­ings and let them have that free­dom and love.”

The re­sult­ing works are a nat­u­ral broad­en­ing of scope for an artist whose sub­jects – from na­tive flora to dis­carded beer bot­tles sug­gest­ing boozy mas­culin­ity – have al­ways been dis­tinctly Aus­tralian. Clas­si­cally trained in Italy, Ju­lian’s use of thinned-down oils to evoke the trans­parency of glass or the nu­ances of skin trans­lates per­fectly to the NSW far south coast, a land­scape made for his pel­lu­cid blues and swathes of pure, neg­a­tive space. “I like lu­mi­nos­ity and fresh­ness and think it matches my per­son­al­ity. I’m not an ag­gres­sive, heavy-metal, chain-smok­ing artist. I’m quiet and I search for seren­ity in my work.”

Ac­com­pa­nied by a video loop of Bithry In­let’s mer­cu­rial cur­rents, Ju­lian’s se­ries of wa­ter­scapes – all in por­trait for­mat – are ren­dered with the flu­id­ity of wa­ter it­self. “I’ve al­ways tried to make oils look like wa­ter­colours. This time I’ve re­ally started to make them look like wa­ter­colour sketches,” says Ju­lian. “They’re a lot more free and loose, more from me­mory and in­tu­ition, rather than be­ing too fig­u­ra­tive.”

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