Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Philip Wolfha­gen, Night Bea­con V (2005). Tar­raWarra Mu­seum of Art col­lec­tion. Ac­quired 2005. On dis­play in Panorama, Tar­raWarra Mu­seum of Art, Healesville, Vic­to­ria, un­til July 31.

Philip Wolfha­gen lived in Syd­ney for five years while at­tend­ing art school but dur­ing this time he be­came so home­sick for his beloved Tas­ma­nian land­scape that he be­gan paint­ing it from mem­ory.

This was the be­gin­ning of his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, some would even say ob­ses­sion, with the land of his birth.

Wolfha­gen, born in 1963, comes from a long line of north­ern Tas­ma­nian set­tlers. He was reared on farms in the Isis val­ley and in Long­ford, near Launce­s­ton.

Af­ter his stint in Syd­ney, he re­turned home and he now lives and works in a rather iso­lated farm­ing com­mu­nity near where he grew up be­cause the land­scape is his in­spi­ra­tion.

“I am only re­ally in­ter­ested in paint­ing places I know and love, the places that are mean­ing­ful for me. I have no de­sire to paint a land­scape for the sake of it,” he once said. “Liv­ing close to na­ture is a very clear way to no­tice

time and the chang­ing sea­sons, to ob­serve the poignancy of mo­ments, and how things pass.”

In his pas­sion for the Tas­ma­nian land­scape, Wolfha­gen has been in­flu­enced by English ro­man­tic painter John Con­sta­ble, who also per­sis­tently painted the area sur­round­ing his home in Ded­ham Vale, east Eng­land.

It was Con­sta­ble who deftly summed up his con­nec­tion to the land when, in 1821, he said: “I should paint my own place best, paint­ing is but an­other word for feel­ing.” It is a sen­ti­ment with which Wolfha­gen would seem to agree.

At first Wolfha­gen didn’t think he would paint land­scape.

“I mean, it was so daggy, the whole genre af­ter the 20th cen­tury had fin­ished with it,” he says in a 2013 video in­ter­view. But, de­spite this, he found his “own lan­guage, his own voice”, with the re­sult that, for ex­am­ple, he has won the Wynne Prize and is rep­re­sented in nu­mer­ous na­tional and in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tions.

For Wolfha­gen, the start­ing point for a paint­ing could be any­thing from a glance out the win­dow at the evening sky or the colour of the dis­tant moun­tains.

Given his fas­ci­na­tion with land­scape, it is fit­ting that one of his paint­ings is on dis­play in

Panorama, a land­scape ex­hi­bi­tion at the Tar­raWarra Mu­seum of Art, Healesville, Vic­to­ria. When I visit the gallery, I’m shown Night

Bea­con V by cu­ra­tor An­thony Fitz­patrick. As we stand be­fore the mon­u­men­tal work, he ex­plains that it is a dis­tant view of slightly in­de­ter­mi­nate to­pog­ra­phy where the lines be­tween the land, hills and sky are not sharply de­fined.

“There is al­ways a slight melancholy tinge to his work which I can’t quite de­fine,” Fitz­patrick says. “But this quiet­ness and still­ness is bro­ken by the strange ap­pear­ance of a fire-like flare of glow­ing red and or­ange which faintly il­lu­mi­nates a lone home­stead hud­dled in the vast un­du­lat­ing tract of land.

“The light source ac­tu­ally comes from a set of car head­lights, which for any­one who has driven through the bush at night can be quite an eerie and even un­set­tling ex­pe­ri­ence as the tan­gled forms of trees and scrub tem­po­rar­ily flash be­fore one’s eyes.”

Fitz­patrick says he finds Wolfha­gen’s paint­ing sur­face “lus­cious” be­cause he uses a pal­ette knife to ap­ply the oil paint mixed with beeswax in thick swaths.

“There is quite a nu­anced gra­da­tion of colour and a dif­fused soft­ened light which he cap­tures,” he says. “All of those things en­hance the am­bi­ence and the mys­tique, which I think are the essence of his sub­lime land­scapes paint­ings.

“They have an at­mos­phere to them, which maybe can only come from liv­ing in the land­scape and spend­ing time and be­ing aware of the changes and the light and the sea­sons and the forces of time and the el­e­ments of wind, fire, rain; all of the things he has worked through and ex­plored in this paint­ing.”

Oil and beeswax on can­vas, 201.3cm x 214.6cm

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