In his 1991 book ‘National Life and Landscapes: Australian Painting 1900-1940’, Ian Burn wrote about Albert Namatjira’s watercolour paintings that “the landscape itself is not the subject focused upon but instead reads as something one journeys through”. Earlier in his 1989 work ‘Homage to Albert (South through the Ranges, Heavitree Gap 1952)’, Burn presented a broader, shorter version of this observation, “A LANDSCAPE IS NOT SOMETHING YOU LOOK AT BUT SOMETHING YOU LOOK THROUGH”. Appearing as if a quote from Namatjira, Burn’s sentence appears in capitals on paper beneath a reproduction of Namatjira’s work on a transparent sheet above. When looking, the effect is twofold; the viewer literally ‘looks through’ the transparent landscape to ‘look at’ the text below. But the text also interrupts the viewer’s ability to ‘look through’ the ‘original’ painting, which is what Burn proposes is the key aspect of Namatjira’s work. The work therefore utilises the landscape but instead of presenting it, obstructs it and simulates the idea of looking at it. The viewer is not invited to navigate the terrain in the picture plane, but instead reminded that they are in an interior space, probably an art gallery, looking at an object. ‘Homage to Albert’ becomes a succinct visual representation of Burn’s conclusion that “(i)n twentieth-century Australia, the idea of the landscape has become more important than the landscape itself. It serves to declare an idea of place, constantly redefining difference in a changing world.
Look At/Look Through is an exhibition of works by 13 artists that explore the relationship between people and the landscape in various ways. In some works, figures, with their backs to us yet almost as surrogates for us, survey the landscape in front of them. In others, the viewer becomes the absent figure, with the work inviting them into another place beyond the gallery, inhabiting the point of view of the person observing the landscape. In some works, visual strategies such as blurring, overlaying text or painterly gestures deny the illusion of real space, instead reorienting attention to the picture plane.
Byron School of Art Project Space
112 Dalley Street,
MULLUMBIMBY NSW 2482