Long car trips along great stretches of highway…tree after tree flashing past…blue skies turning orange as the day ends…whispery white streaks of cloud…bugs on the windscreen, wipers flicking them off again…the first glimpse of ocean as you come around the headland…the purple and green of the mountain ranges…damp old rain-forests…burnt out landscapes where bush-fires have torn through…steam rising off the bitumen…dozing in the passenger seat, fresh air from an open window to keep you awake in the drivers seat…
The romanticism attached to road trips has never really fallen away, even now those things so particular to road trips – the climate, the road noise, the dead silence of a radio drop out zone, regular stops to let the engine cool or check the oil – have been remedied by superior cars, air-conditioning and MP3 players. I don’t imagine too many kids even look out the window at all now that parents have seen the wisdom in installing DVD players in the back seat of the family car. I suppose it alleviates the incessant cries of “are we there yet?” but then it must also remove the excited cries of “we’re almost there!” that I remember so well from my own childhood. I don’t know. Perhaps I should ask my procreating friends sometime.
In any event, those were the memories that flooded my mind as I stood surrounded by Amanda van Gils’ work this week. Inspired by the imperfect photos taken from moving vehicles, van Gils paints landscapes as seen by travellers who are just passing through. With few identifiable landmarks, the works are less about location than they are a celebration of the otherwise inconsequential places between our departure point and our destination. Seen together, they are an homage to the journey itself, the daydreams we have along the way, and the sensation of travelling.
E-Motions gathers together both new and recent works from van Gils studio, with some of the later works inspired by other people’s travel photos rather than her own. Wanting to challenge herself a little further and see just how much her personal memories of place and time impacted on her painting, van Gils asked friends to supply their own images for her to experiment with. The result is two distinct bodies of work, the more ethereal paintings taken from her own journeys, and the slightly clearer, perhaps less emotionally driven paintings that are the result of seeing landscape through other people’s eyes. Hung side by side, they show the strength of van Gils’ ability to replicate the difference in movement and light as seen by the camera lens as opposed to the human eye.
Up close, van Gils’ work could be mistaken for gestural abstraction, with expansive brushstrokes, rapid scribbles and frantic daubs of paint. To a certain extent I guess they do fall into that category, but with a bit of distance the aspect changes, as it always does. The paintings become more defined the more you look at them. Colours strengthen, forms emerge, the landscapes glow, and it becomes obvious how little abstract intent is behind the work. Rather, they are realistic renderings of fleeting moments, recreated by an intense and committed artist.
Australia has a long history of landscape painting, with some of our greatest artists acclaimed for the the way they documented a burgeoning country from coastal areas right through to the outback, a tradition continued by some of the best contemporary Australian artists working today. Amanda van Gils’ motion paintings deserve to be included amongst them.
White Canvas Gallery until 18 July 2015