John R Walker

The paintings of John R Walker visualise the undulating landscape of the Braidwood region, where he has lived and worked for many years. Like many artists, his newest series draws on the experiences and recollections of the recent fires that have been deeply etched into Australia’s collective memory.

Staged at Utopia Art Sydney, ‘Fireground’ presents a cycle of paintings pivoted on the age-old theme of destruction and rebirth. Though the tragedy of last summer’s wildfires was profound and pervasive, its wake was quickly sidestepped by the global pandemic – which spread like wildfire. But with Walker’s latest paintings, memories of the fires come flooding back in all their hellish angst.

An experienced bushwalker with keen interest in geology, ecology, biology and morphology, Walker has fervently explored the Braidwood district. For over thirty years, his paintings have traced the accruing residues of existence and scarification of the land via marked trees and cleared terrain. Last summer, Braidwood was ravaged by fire, and the artist’s resulting works – rendered with quivering brushstrokes and an infernal palette – show us a defeated Australian landscape. The forest is being devoured in these paintings as flames flicker off the canvas into our inextinguishable memory. In some works, the landscape is parched and stripped bare to the bone, with fields of ash grey laced with skeletal, spectral lines, suggesting the vulnerability of a place that once seemed so unyielding. And yet, moments of impossibly bright greens climbing regal trees that stand like sentinels above a fertile floor posit the enduring landscape as a glorious survivor; a hero amidst humanity’s ceaseless mistakes and misfortunes. Rebirth and resurrection deliver a promise of hope, yet we know this hope is as fragile, as volatile, as the bark that burned like paper in the Summer.

EXHIBITION
Fireground
4 – 25 July 2020
Utopia Art Sydney

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