Gar­den of de­lights more than 30 years in the mak­ing

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - JO LITSON

As a child, Alexan­der McKen­zie was “the kid who was al­ways draw­ing. Every­body in my fam­ily and my teach­ers used to say ‘that’s very nice but you need a Plan B’. Al­ways. And I never had a Plan B,” he says.

“So to see that a ca­reer I have man­aged to build and sur­vive on reach such a milestone as hav­ing a ma­jor sur­vey show makes me feel happy that I did make the right choice. I think my grand­mother would even be pleased about that,” he says with a laugh.

A highly suc­cess­ful artist, whose ex­hi­bi­tions in­vari­ably sell out, McKen­zie cur­rently has his first ma­jor sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion called The Ad­ven­tur­ous Gar­dener at Hazel­hurst Arts Cen­tre. It fea­tures 42 of his most sig­nif­i­cant works, in­clud­ing a huge new paint­ing made es­pe­cially for the event called More Than Many Spar­rows.

Best known for his lu­mi­nous “imag­i­nary land­scape” paint­ings, McKen­zie has been a fi­nal­ist in nine Wynne Prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW. He has also been se­lected as an Archibald Prize fi­nal­ist on six oc­ca­sions. Three of those por­traits — of Richard Roxburgh, Sarah Blasko and Matt Corby — are also part of the sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion.

“All the work is pri­vately owned ex­cept for some of the very early draw­ings, which have come some out of my sis­ter’s house, and some from my mother’s col­lec­tion — thank good­ness that she didn’t throw things away,” says McKen­zie. “The most un­ex­pected thing I found is that there are com­mon themes run­ning through the works, even in pic­tures and draw­ings from the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is re­ally amaz­ing. There is a fab­u­lous floor plan of a gar­den de­sign that I did as a 15-year old. It was part of some big­ger project that I must have been work­ing on at the time so it’s all coloured and quite beau­ti­fully done but all the trees and the plants are la­belled, quite specif­i­cally – Ja­panese Box, Cherry Tree, Liq­uid Am­ber. It’s the same trees that I am cur­rently paint­ing. I hadn’t seen that draw­ing for 30 years or what­ever it is.”

McKen­zie’s land­scapes have a se­duc­tive, dream­like, imag­i­nary qual­ity to them. He says that in this ex­hi­bi­tion you can see the point, in 2004, when he made the shift from lit­er­ally ob­served land­scape to paint­ings that use the land­scape as a metaphor, with his trees and gar­dens be­com­ing “a sym­bol for the self”. THE AD­VEN­TUR­OUS GAR­DENER, HAZEL­HURST ARTS CEN­TRE UN­TIL OC­TO­BER 21

Artist Alexan­der McKen­zie and one of the dreamy land­scapes that fea­tures in his sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion at Hazel­hurst.

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