Tony Costa

In Issue 43, 2018, Tony Costa wrote about his obsessive affiliation with the Australian landscape.

Australia’s landscape has always been my obsession as a painter. It is the life force and the rhythm in the landscape that I am constantly attracted to.

All my drawing studies begin with being in direct contact with the landscape. I often spend several days immersing myself in the feeling of my chosen area. I draw directly using coloured pencils and compressed charcoal. It’s a joy to use the immediacy of these mediums to interpret the subject in an energetic and intuitive way. Sometimes I also use sticks found in the landscape then dip them in ink to produce drawings. I enjoy the crudeness of my materials.

After completing the drawings on site, I then develop them in the studio, using mixed media on paper. Often these are followed by larger oil paintings and works on paper.

In the studio I like to invert the painting so that it changes my reading of the image, so the focus of the subject becomes less important. Ultimately what matters is the unity and the invention. I do this irrespective of whether I paint a landscape or a portrait. I try not to boss the painting around too much. Francis Bacon once said that he ‘liked the paintings that made themselves’.

I have been influenced by a number of artists, including mosaic artists of the Byzantine era. I love the simplicity and flatness of their work and their attempt to depict the spiritual rather than the physical, as well as their ability to generate emotional content through small chips of glass.

Other influences include Ian Fairweather’s lyrical lines, the exciting imagery of Sidney Nolan, the intense feeling and expressive colour of the German Expressionists, and the rugged poetry of Kevin Connor and artist Leon Kossoff.

My recent exhibition at Art Atrium, called ‘Hacking River’, is inspired by the landscape of the Royal National Park, on Sydney’s southern fringe. I love working in this area because I am drawn to its silence, rugged beauty, chaos and forms.

For Hacking River No 1 (2018) I applied oil paint directly onto the canvas using a large palette knife and my hands. This process eliminates the possibility of being distracted by detail. I create the chaos and then use the line to find my subject. This way of working is exhilarating as it feels that my hand is one millisecond ahead of my brain. The primal and unfinished nature of this work seems to exaggerate and echo a quality I find within the Australian bush.

I used water-based paint for Hacking River 2 (2018). This creates even greater chaos, using thin layers of colour to build an image then ultimately finding the forms by using the line. The invented space in this work is shallow, allowing me to concentrate on the rhythms in front of me. I use the line to get away from solids, as I am drawn to the way a tree limb articulates a space.

In Hacking River 6 (2018) I was only concerned with the rhythm achieved through the linear quality created by the absence of colour, whereas Hacking River 8 (2018) is a drawing completed on site in the landscape, as a way of trapping the energy in front of me in a spontaneous reaction to the landscape that captures the river’s drama.   

The Archibald Prize
11 May – 8 September 2019
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

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