Landscape continues John Oxborough’s study of representation and perception, using the landscape as a means to explore the function and meaning of memory. Two distinct series are depicted in the exhibition; one drawn from the artist’s early years as a painter in Dunedin, and the other from his current life in Auckland's North Shore. These landscapes read as fragmented recollections from a half-forgotten past; transformed by the nuances, deviations and inconsistencies of memory.
Throughout Landscape subjects are not inscribed deliberately but allowed to emerge, as the often chaotic and incomplete forms intersect and overlap. In this way, Oxborough’s work borrows the notion of the simultaneity of time from Picasso's Cubism. The image is not a definite moment or memory, but a synthetic experience patched together from a lifetime of evermore abstract recollections.
Unlike his Cubist forebears, Oxborough uses colour freely as a both a formal component and to suggest a narrative. Colour appears not only a symbolic marker but also a means to resolve the weight of a composition. Through the often unexpected use of colour, objects become the focus of the work; suggesting the clarity of a particular memory and commenting on the process of perception and recollection.
TheHills to Highcliff series refers to a body of work painted plein air in Dunedin in the late 1980s. Oxborough’s new landscapes are informed simultaneously by his memories of the period and by his original paintings of the scenes. Oxborough describes the process: “Much like Chinese Whispers, the repetition of the original story distorts or alters in each new painting as the memory is challenged. The further I go with these works the landscape gradually evolves into a landscape of the mind. This unknown becomes a pre-meditated action, and the deviations and accidents are encouraged.” Larger works in the exhibition focus on more recent experiences of the Auckland landscape, which is a current presence in the artist’s life. Here, cues are taken from the Dunedin works; form and colour traces the division between reality and understanding.
Above all, however, Oxborough is concerned with the meaning and function of painting. The conceptual concerns of his pieces are subjugated by his abiding preoccupation with the nature of composition, and the formal aspects of form, colour and line. As a result, these works explore not only the philosophy of memory and perception, but of art itself.
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