Hobie Porter

I paint in pursuit of a sensitive engagement with place and landscape. My paintings speak of precarious environments, often in terms of neglect or loss. I think landscape painting can be as much about the self as it is about the landscape; it’s a slippery notion which culminates in  my work as an elusive poetic. My aesthetic is involved in a kind of imagining into landscape, to reinvoke a sense of its mystery and to speak of a quiet, emotive response to place.


I live in a subtropical rainforest in North Eastern NSW.  Spending time alone in the bush is a familiar and normal existence for me. It has actually become an important component of my practice; I go to the place, which may be as close as a walk out of the studio, or it could require interstate travel. I go there not to do much, other than to feel it out and muse on ideas. In those moments, I am listening to the country and waiting for suggestions. Unobtrusive thoughts will emerge and recur to me in those places. It usually takes time to find a way to articulate these thoughts in a way that is sympathetic to the particular environment. I may find an object of interest on the site, or take a photograph. On odd occasions, ideas will simply come together in an instant. Sometimes a simple moment like that can provide enough inspiration for an exhibition. I usually have to revisit places to incrementally work their story out. Each time I do, it is as if I am developing my relationship with the environment, and that process is ongoing.

I think the practice of listening respectfully intersects with indigenous relationships to country. It offers an insight into how and why the first people developed such a respectful engagement with place, coupled with a powerfully deep sense of belonging. It is an admirable quality. Perhaps this was a significant component which enabled a sophisticated civilisation to apply sustainable behaviours and relationships with their lands, past and present. In contradistinction, colonial attitudes in Australian history were more concerned with shaping land to suit foreign interests. Many of these practices have proven to be unsustainable and counterproductive.

When I listen to a place, I can only translate my response from a Western cultural framework. It seems appropriate for me to utilise my inherited Western landscape painting heritage, with all the problems that it entails. I consider my practice to continue that championed in Australia by 19th Century colonial painter, Eugene von Guerard. His paintings emphasised an accurate rendering of all elements within the landscape, promoting a very democratic notion that everything in it was equally important. There is a commitment to the seemingly inconsequential in von Guerard’s methodical painting technique that I like to pursue in mine.

My practice continues the landscape painting genre, yet not without scrutiny.

It (the genre) is difficult to navigate in contemporary times because of its historical context. It harbours associations of romanticism, conquest, colonialism, nationalism, the picturesque and the sublime. I am interested in the implications such ideas have when considering  landscape from a contemporary environmental perspective. History has a way of spilling into the future if unchecked, sometimes even so.

The Cornucopia or Horn of Plenty, for example, has been used since the Greco-Roman era to symbolise abundant harvests. It is an innate cultural symbol that endorses indulgence. Abundance has never been greater in today’s age, but the consequences of the cornucopian imperative for both the environment and humanity are now sharply in focus. We are reaching the limits of our planet’s resources and as such, those systems that supply such abundance are experiencing greater pressures under an exponentially anthropogenic age. It only took me a short walk on a Northern NSW beach to collect an undesirable abundance of food packaging and plastic waste, which I then painted, as a way of recasting and inverting the traditional Horn of Plenty.

When in the field, I often come across seemingly inconsequential items that have the potential to become powerful agents of transformation in their larger environment. I am prompted to collect and take them back to the studio, where I experiment with arrangements and combinations.  I replicate them in paint, piece by piece, in a trompe l’oeil manner. I find these fragments will take on an uncanny force en-masse, interrupting and supplanting the respective landscapes that appear behind them. I use this approach to highlight the complexity of interactions that these small components have within the larger landscape.

Loss is an important underlying principle in my work. It manifests in terms of mortality, intransigence and absence. I employ loss in an open and interchangeable manner; it can act as both an environmental metaphor and a memento mori. The allusion to environmental neglect and abandonment tends to invoke a melancholic character.

Although the paintings suggest environmental loss and neglect, I am always looking for a point of transcendence. It is important for me to reflect an enduring beauty in all of the places that I depict. The resultant paintings are gentle and quiet depictions of disturbed arcadias. They are not picturesque conjurations; they depict actual places as I encounter them. Perhaps it’s a fanciful notion, but I like to think that they are ‘grounded’ in that way.

Hobie Porter is represented by Arthouse Gallery, Sydney.

Image: Horn of PlentySpirula Spirula, 2013, oil on canvas, 112 x 180cm


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