Philip Wolfhagen, Little World no. 8 2015, oil and wax on linen, 96.0 x 103.0 cm, Image courtesy the artist and Karen Woodbury Gallery, Melbourne
“As I looked at the extraordinary objects I was passing, I thought of ‘the little world’ which men carry about inside their heads. …However strange and unexpected the prospect before our eyes, it never seems to take us wholly by surprise; there is an echo within ourselves answering each new impression. Either we must already have seen something resembling it elsewhere, or else our brains are prepared in advance with every possible combination of shapes and forms.”
September 11th 1855
Delacroix’s observations immediately resonated with my own perception of landscape when I came across his writings early last year. For me landscape is a concept rather than a representation of a real topographical place. Landscape compositions are derived from the alignment of the observed with the ‘blueprint’, or aesthetic framework, which is embedded in my mind. I am very interested in the relationship between this internal world and the external world. What is it that makes landscape meaningful?
At the time of reading Delacroix’s journal I was at a pivotal point in my career. I had spent the preceding two years reviewing the past 25 years of my work in the development of the touring survey exhibition ’Illumination’. I found the intense self-examination required in this process prevented me from getting on with new work in the studio. The critique of review extended to every aspect of my practice, even the choice of materials and techniques.
The catalyst for finally getting back to work was my involvement in a unique project called The Skullbone Experiment, as one of eleven artists invited to Skullbone Plains in the central highlands of Tasmania by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. This experience clarified my thoughts about landscape; the only way I could engage with this austere place was by applying a rigorous aesthetic order to it. I produced 20 small plywood panels in response to this experience entitled the Skullbone Inventions. I felt rejuvenated by the mental processes applied to the imaging of this landscape, and quickly got on with new work. I concentrated on applying this mental image, this ‘little world’ in my mind, to other landscapes. The resulting Landscape Reinventions were shown at the Melbourne Art Fair 2014.
The paintings in this exhibition are larger scale developments from the Landscape Reinventions. The increase in scale has put greater emphasis on paint manipulation. This enquiry into the imaging of landscape is very much governed by the medium of paint, which is a world unto itself. These paintings are as much about painting as they are about landscape. The emphasis I believe should always be on the act of painting itself, the poetry of its execution, the emotional power of the medium.