Garden of delights more than 30 years in the making
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.