Alexander McKenzie

In his new series, Alexander McKenzie continues his enduring engagement with imagined environments as conduits for escape and emancipation.

Early in 2020, McKenzie flew to Morocco to rest, re-invigorate and re-inspire himself with a change of landscape. The famous gardens of Marrakesh were his destination – fertile places of inspiration for a new series. As it turned out, the idea of escaping to a utopian place took on a much more loaded meaning for the artist as COVID-19 broke out just as he returned to Australia. ‘My apprehension and experience of this new pandemic–struck world meant my journeys in Morocco became more Arcadian, more symbolic, and more meaningful to me, as I recalled this time before the virus that has come to define this year’, says McKenzie. ‘Making the paintings allowed me to return again and again’, he continues, ‘Not only to the gardens and landscape of palms and pools, vast skies and the warm brickwork all painted up in Marrakesh red, but to a state of mind free from the thoughts of 2020’. The ensuing paintings re-interpret the gardens of the Koutoubia, the Menara, La Mamounia and Jacques Majorelle.

Created solely from imagination and memory, McKenzie’s uninhabited landscapes recall the themes of Western symbolist painting and the techniques of the 15th Century Dutch Old Masters, evoking implied narrative whilst retaining the artist’s preoccupation with the effects of light and atmosphere. Centered around the motif of the tree, these otherworldly scenes nurture paradoxical dialogues between transience and eternity, vitality and mortality, spirituality and corporeality. Sharply observed detail set against dreamy sfumato pulls our gaze upon the variety of palms and cactus, the juxtaposition of the wild and the manicured, and the constant changing colours of the Moroccan landscape. With a slight warming of palette, we can feel the soft oceanic breath of the wind, while the mellow hues of the sky bring together sunrise and twilight, transporting us into a suspended moment; a dream. ‘As I am painting them, I am transported’, reflects McKenzie, ‘I can, at least in my mind, escape to the Palmeraie.’

EXHIBITION
Alexander McKenzie: Escape to the Palmeraie
12 November – 6 December 2020
Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney

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