The shape of water
Julian Meagher to widen his world view as seen in his luminous new work.
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.”