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Case Study – Art Critical and Historical Studies Essay

Task Description: Select three artworks that use the physical environment as their inspiration/theme. One is to be a traditional European/early Australian landscape, one a Modernist work and one a Post Modern work. Write an Analysis of each, showing your understanding of how the four frames can provide different ways of appreciating artworks. As a result of the invention of photography the physical environment has been a source of artist inspiration.

The evolution of the interpretation of the world around artists can be demonstrated by the exploration of the practice of traditional artist Eugene Von Guerard, modernist artist Rosalie Gascoigne and post-modern artist Janet Laurence. It is from this the audience is able to determine how the physical environment has influenced art and in turn provide insight to the varying perspectives on the appreciation of artworks. Eugene Von Guerard (b. Austria 1811 – d. London 1901) is a traditional European artist who explored the western physical environment.

Living in Italy, Germany, Australia and England we can observe the influence which the environs had on his art marking. In the 1830’s Von Guerard trained in Giovanibattista Bassi’s art school in Rome and later studied landscape painting in Germany at the Dusseldorf Academy. Whilst primarily an artist, he also considered himself an explorer taking long treks in Australia and New Zealand. It was from these trips that had created finely detailed pencil drawings in sketch books.

These were later used as the bases for his paintings. Von Guerard expressed nature as he remembered it both its overwhelming beauty and terror at times. It is evident in his works the observations he made on the light and colour within nature. He predominately worked in the convention at the time of oil painting. He used the medium meticulously in painstaking detail. Von Guerard’s deep examination of the land around him enabled him to gain an intense relationship with it which in turn reflected in his art making.

Von Guerard being a romantic artist, observed the connections between art and nature. He gave a sense of place in the grandeur and beauty of the landscape. Von Guerard investigated the development of colonial art and found issues in the isolation parochialism (of narrow local interest) and within European traditions. His aversion to this resulted in his contribution to the movement away from English landscape tradition. This personal artist style was heavily influenced by Claude Lorraine, Nicolas Poussiu and Salvator Rosa.

He was further inspired by the German Romantic landscape tradition; this is exemplified by Casper Friedrich who attempted to link man and God through nature. His influence to the art world saw him being appointed in 1870 to be the first master of school of painting at the National Gallery of Victoria. Here he influenced artist training for eleven years particularly Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts. During this period Von Guerard was renowned for his rigid adherence to picturesque subject matter and detailed treatment.

It can be observed within North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko (1863) the romantic style of Von Guerard’s practice. North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko, an oil painting on canvas is immensely large scale at 66. 5 by 116. 8cm. Its meticulous detail heightens the overwhelming size exposing the grandeur of the mountains surrounding the artist. The areas of the foreground and the mound of large boulders on the left are particularly perplexing. The boulders are said to be introduced to emphasise human insignificance and enforce a sense of drama.

They serve to provide a link between the foreground, the distant mountains and the sky, that records the passage from heavy rain to bright sunshine. These rocks echo those on peaks at the centre of the composition, gloriously patterned by the snow that has melted to reveal the grassy slopes underneath. The rich purples and oranges and lush greens, matched with the brutality of the rocks and the blankness of the white snow, capture a natural beauty that changes with the time of day and weather conditions.

This exemplifies Von Guerard’s passionate emotions towards the landscape and the disappointment as the storm cuts the expedition short. The billowing rainclouds entering from the left create dark shadows over the foreground, the crisp greys and blues suggesting the cool temperatures of the area. Within the foreground the audience observes a narrative in the group of Professor Neumayers scientific expedition undertaking a magnetic survey. The central figure is speculated to Von Guerard to the left is Neumayer. In the distant sky he has captured an approaching storm.

The inclusion of the human figures signals both the sense of isolation and the peacefulness of the scene, while also highlighting the vastness of the mountain. It is evident from examination of photographs, the topographical accuracy that Von Guerard evoked. The influence which the conventions at the time had on North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko is highly evident with the composition of the artwork. The framing by the rocks on the left was readily enforced at art schools during this period. Influences of the western world are apparent with relationships between science and art and god and nature.

However Von Guerard has moved away from traditional English conventions with his sense of isolation, unknown location and anti-parochial views. By using meticulous detail he strived to depict beauty at its highest form. This meaning North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko was sublime, large and majestic. Unfortunately for Von Guerard this technique employed in North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko was considered a commercial failure. The isolation made it insignificant for the at the time audience to comprehend, this was fuelled with its sublime, grandeur nature.

His raw dramatic approach to nature was poorly received. James Smith an influential critic, who had always been an enthusiastic supporter, dismissed Von Guerard’s work for its “microscopism”. Von Guerard ultimately had to sell the painting himself in Vienna, 1873. James Gleeson found it 100 years after it creation and passed it on to the Australian National Gallery. Von Guerard’s paintings are often praised by contemporary critics for their grandeur and faithfulness to nature, although they were also criticised for their photographic nature.

Art Curator Candice Bruce who brought Von Guerard’s work back into the light in 1980, spoke of the work in a positive regard telling of the “high complexity and depth… exposing audiences to the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities”. This positive reception is enforced by Geelong Galleries, Geoffrey Edwards who articulates of the “remarkable masterpiece”, that is “a golden vista…beautifully lit… shines off its colonial enterprise” and has “no substitute”. Today Von Guerard’s paintings are valued for the compositions and executions as for the subject matter.

His strong interest in Romantic association has resulted in a heavy influence in his art making. His practice is highly nationalistic in representation; this is evident in the exaggerated poetic purpose in North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko. Von Guerard’s practice a century later influenced Imants Tillers (b. Australia 1950) to create the appropriation of North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko, titled Mount Analogue (1985). Mount Analogue is an immensely large scale (279. 5 by 571. 5cm) oil stick and synthetic polymer paint on 165 canvas boards.

It is a reinterpretation of the exact view of Von Guerard’s. His work challenges the authenticity of the original as it too is an interpretation, however it can be observed the different interpretations of the physical landscape. The examination of the practice of Von Guerard has determined the significant influence the physical landscape has had upon his inspiration as an artist. The audience is able to observe through the decomposition of his artwork North-East view from the Northern Top of Mount Kosciusko the vast perspectives in which we can appreciate artworks.

Similarly, Modernist artist Rosalie Gascoigne (b. New Zealand 1917 – d. Australia 1999) draws inspiration from the Australian. Living in rural town of Monaro in the Southwest of New South Wales it is evident within her art making the influence the physical environment had. Rosalie Gascoigne became an “artist” late in life. She had studied literature at university, acquiring an abiding love of poetry. She later would come to describe her working practice by quoting Wordsworth on “emotion recollected in tranquillity”.

Gascoigne never attempted to paint and never sought to go to art school. I’ve always known how hopeless I was at painting or drawing”. She spent many long days in solitude where she developed her highly original powers of observation. She broke the status quo of her time by creating assemblages of found materials including wood, iron, wire, feathers, signs, boxes, crates, lino, enamelware, galvanised tin, corrugated iron and masonite. These objects rather than accurately depict, elements of the world around her: the landscape around her home and the materials and textures of rural life. Travelling around the countryside collecting materials was integral to Gascoigne’s art practice.

Gascoigne a bored 1950’s housewife having no training as an artist created works without considering conventions of the period. Her singular vision of the landscape was expressed in stunning decisive constructions made from the worn and weathered objects she found within it. She found the Australian landscape had a degree of personal freedom in it and became absorbed by “the width and the rock under your feet and the high sky”. She was not interested in describing the visual reality, picturesque beauty or stores of the Australian landscape, and chose to capture the essence of the landscape’s opography, space, air, vegetation and the daily and seasonal natural rhythms of nature, in compositions that were often startling in their refined simplicity.

This was further influenced by the poetry of Peter Porter and David Campbell who also evoked their work around the landscape of Canberra. Gascoigne intricately has woven glimpses of her past feelings and experiences into her work creating art of an extraordinarily transcendent nature. Piece to Walk Around (1981) highlights the unique nature of Gascoigne’s practice.

Piece to Walk Around, is comprised of bundles of saffron thistle sticks arranged into 20 squares each 80 by 80 by 1. 5 cm. These squares lay directly on the floor in a patchwork; one bundle running one way, then one other. The criss-cross formation recalls the undulating countryside, the ordering of agriculture and industry and the mottled effects of light and shadow on it. The work conveys a sense of infinite expansiveness and liberation experienced in the country, as manifested through the grid, here understood as an open-ended structure to which additional bundles of thistles could be theoretically added or subtracted.

In Piece to Walk Around the literal depiction of the environment is stripped back to its very essence and the work becomes a microcosm of the landscape. The title is used to draw attention to the changing visual effects as one circles the work and the shifting play on the natural material. It is evident from the innovative nature of Piece to Walk Around that western conventions had little impact on Gascoigne’s practice. However Japanese influence is demonstrated through the formal composition and precise organisation of the bundles.

The absence of art school allowed for Gascoigne to be singularly influenced by the world around her and not by conventions enforced by the art masters. The resolved use and order of her “found” materials reflects the influence her interest in flower arranging induced. The isolation of which she endured in the country allowed ability to entirely appreciate and observe the world around her before drawing inspiration from it. Piece to Walk Around was well received by the art world. Its simplicity made it easy for the audience to comprehend fulfilling Gascoigne’s aim to make art accessible to everyone.

Gascoigne proposed that whilst “the viewer’s response to the landscape may differ” she hopes that “this picture will convey some sense of the countryside” and “induce in the viewer the liberating feeling of being in the open country”. Her Sydney dealer of over 10 years Roslyn Oxley said “she was very strong and to the point; there is never anything timid about her work”. Critic Sebastian Smee noted that “Gascoigne resembles a scavenging bowerbird in a world where the production of blue plastic has ceased. What to do? What to do….? Nest while you can! ”.

This quote illuminates practice precisely highlighting the beauty and simplicity of her work from the influence of nature. Australian Art Collector reporter Judith White spoke of Piece to Walk Around being a “unique and imperishable contribution to art”. In 1994 Gascoigne was awarded an Order of Australia for services to art signifying her contribution to the art world. Piece to Walk Around was donated by the Gascoigne family after Roslyn Gascoigne’s death to the Museum of Contemporary Art allowing for a broader audience and the ability for her artwork to inspire a new generation.

It was Gascoigne’s innovative practice that resulted in her success. Gascoigne’s engages minimalism’s sense of order in an original take on the physical environment. She employs a mixture Japanese of formal composition and rough Australian nature to break traditional conventions that define the individual styles. Gascoigne’s concepts from Piece to Walk Around were evident amongst a broad range of her artworks. Untitled 12 squares of 6 (1980-81) is another segment from the series in which Piece to Walk Around is derived from.

It is created with identical composition as Piece to Walk Around however constructed from sawn weather wood to a large 90 by 119. 5cm. This artwork demonstrates the concept of how individuals can gather varying interpretations from the physical landscape and that this inspiration can impact upon the broad material practice of an artist. Through the analysis of Gascoigne’s practice, it can be observed the substantial influence that the physical landscape has had upon the artist.

The audience is able to compare through the decomposition of Gascoigne’s artwork Piece to Walk Around the varying influences that the environment around them has had. It is through this the audience is able to full appreciate the construction of these artworks. It seems the influence of the physical environment has had on artists has continued to the present day through the examination of Post Modern artist Janet Laurence (b. Sydney, Australia 1947 – ). Living in the city of Sydney it is exceedingly evident within the strong messages within her artwork the influence the physical environment had upon her.

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