Exhibition Review. Iain Reid. 5opt Gallery Hong Kong.

John Olsen is widely considered to be Australia's greatest living landscape painter. In the 1980s, Olsen took a light plane flight over the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia. The Fleurieu is bordered on one side by St Vincent's Gulf and by the Murray River on the other. To the north is Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, and in the south is the Coorong, an extraordinary wetland isthmus formed where the Murray meets the sea. His flight and this landscape formed the basis of a series of works that are arguably the artist's greatest and most inspired landscape paintings.

Olsen's fellow Australian, the Victorian artist Iain Reid, is also inspired by flight. However, Reid's exhibition in Hong Kong, entitled Walking in the Air, does not attempt to document any particular landscape or point of view. Rather, his work takes the experience of flight, of passing though the atmosphere of the landscape itself as its starting point, and layering it with other experience. The result is work that implies an aerial view but which is capable of supporting many other allusions. Two fine examples of this are Centered (2005) and Late Shadow (2005).

The experiential nature of his work is evident in his paint surfaces. Each work is patiently built up over a period of time. Each begins with a dark staining of the canvas and layers of dark pigment over which are layered skeins of paint, each progressively lighter in tone than its predecessor. Sometimes the pigment is applied then wiped away leaving nothing but traces caught in earlier brush marks and at others it is sponged on even and smooth. The result is a surface of great subtlety and complexity. The handle of the brush and other tools are used to scratch at these top layers excavating and exposing the darker tones beneath. These marks reveal not only that which is buried within the canvas but also suggest a range of natural forms. Other forms are suggested by whorls of pigment that appear to be erupting from deep within the paint's surface.

The vastness of the Australian landscape may appear, at first sight, to be monotonous and dull as its sheer scale swamps the senses. But if you take the time to avert your eyes from the sweeping plains and the far horizon you will find extraordinary variety in the details. In some of Reid's works the incised marks and tight curls suggest complex patterns of sparse vegetation, in others the extraordinary beauty of coral reefs as seen from above. In still other works the marks and patterns suggest vision itself- the motes and curlicues that are sometimes sensed rather than seen when set against the sweep of the sky.

Many of Reid's works are veiled in limpid blue. This is the trembling blue of distance seen through the heat haze of a summer's day. As a colorist Reid has captured this particular quality of the Australian landscape and transformed it into abstract works of lyrical beauty that go far beyond national sentiment.

Jonathan Thomson

Courtesy of Asian Art News Volume 16 Number 2 March/April 2006



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