Sam Field

Sam Field’s paintings humbly tackle the complex puzzle of Australian cultural identity, traversing history, landscapes, folklore, popular culture and politics with heartfelt integrity. Describing his work as ‘neo-history paintings’, Field deftly navigates the space left vacant by the Australian dream. 

In ‘The Horizon’ series, Field’s typically fractured, frenetic compositions achieve greater focus, with the landscape assuming terrific potency and presence. Produced in the wake of a 15,000km journey throughout Australia’s interior, the imagery derives from a combination of sources and experiences accumulated en route – from brochures and books to plein air studies and photographs taken by the artist. The journey took place not long before fires consumed much of the country over summer. Landscapes and figures are forged with agitated, fidgeting brushstrokes that charge every element with a vibrational static.

The effects of Australia’s rapacious and entitled attitude towards the land are keenly felt. Field’s travels led him to recognise that the fingers of enterprise extend their grip throughout the continent’s vast centre. ‘Even in the moonscape north of Pimba ‘caution, stock ahead’ signs trail the road like breadcrumbs’, says Field, ‘we’ve destroyed the country and rivers, yet people still try to clear land to run more stock. It’s a bedraggled, constricted, hot landscape that’s barely holding on.’ Man and Woman Walking Through Dry River of Empire (Man Laying Dog Bait) (2020) depicts pastoralists as spectres, hovering over the punished earth, fundamentally out of place and out of touch.

Figures variously alternate between anonymity, celebrity and legend. Russell Crow makes a cameo in Man in Hole (2020), resuming his role as the water diviner. Field pokes fun at this archetypal turn of the century macho man, who hails salvation as he wallows in his muddy hole. In Quintessential Australian Landscape (The Ghost of Makybe Diva Over Wilpena Pound) (2020) the prize-winning thoroughbred prances mid-air above a spectacular natural amphitheatre, in a moment of apotheosis. Relegated to the status of a deity, the racehorse assumes greater cultural prominence than the ancient landscape that it overwhelms. Venturing further, still, into the mystic, Fortune Teller (2020) depicts a lonesome cowboy, standing with contrapposto swagger, flanked by red-belly black snakes, his black Stetson hat casually on fire. Field embraces the absurd as a vehicle to dissect our values, myth-making and national image. 

Field talks modestly about his process, describing painting as ‘a problem you create for yourself that you have to solve.’ It is this spirit of enquiry that underscores his work and allows him to confront complex themes with dogged tenacity. ‘The Horizon’ paintings convey equal measures of dashed hopes, guilt, nostalgia and fatalistic resignation as our sunburnt country, our land of sweeping plains, reaches its tipping point.

EXHIBITION
Sam Field: The Horizon
27 May – 21 June 2020
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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