Denistone, on the northern line of the Sydney rail network, is a subject I have painted for twenty years. The stretch of Sydney Harbour between Goat Island and Cockatoo Island has been a subject for more than ten years. Over the duration of my life I have regarded one or the other of these two places as home.
One conspicuous difference is that while Denistone is high and cloistered by tall trees, the suburbs of the Harbour fall away to the water, allowing air and light to intervene between landforms. But otherwise these places have much in common. In both, some dramatic natural feature of the terrain forced the street grid, when the suburbs were subdivided during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to warp and skew. Either the steeply rising hills at Denistone, or the bays cleaving apart the promontories of Yurulbin Point, Mann’s Point and Berry’s Island. In these locales the ground plane can be thought of as a record of how what is has replaced or augmented what was.
Another commonality is that from the higher vantage points of each place, sweeping views to the south and west allow the sight of other places - and thus the idea of somewhere else - to nest itself within present experience. Trains passing through Denistone or ferries traversing the waters of the Harbour are regular reminders of a matrix of human habitation that is continuous across Sydney. It accords with an idea of home that manifests in countless variations around the world.
The paintings and works on paper in this exhibition were executed from 2013 to 2017. Of particular interest to me in these years has been the force with which the subjects have asserted themselves in my mind, continuing to evolve on the picture plane even though I have ceased observing them closely. Nothing in this exhibition was done en plein air and I have not felt the need to walk up Ryedale Road or Vista Street to retain truth to subject. Somehow, through the recent years of not looking, the subjects have evolved in my imagination towards a more complex treatment than when I worked on site in Denistone and by the Harbour. Or at least that is how it seems to me.
Painting is a discipline that requires of the painter acute attentiveness to the present moment, yet it also depends upon retrospection and future projection. It puts in the way of the painter a thousand lures to the past and can draw the viewer into nostalgia, but still there is the possibility of creating pictures that loosen from the binds of precedent. This possibility is the reason that I continue to paint. While some of the works in this exhibition sit comfortably within the genre of landscape, reflecting how my present perceptions rest upon work I did years ago, others are becoming something else. My understanding of place hinges as much on thoughts of underlying structure as the appearances of objects, and allusions to being in the world can be made with means other than local colour and natural light. I will go no further in explaining or interpreting myself, except to say that this exhibition marks a point within a continuing synthesis.
Joe Frost, March, 2017
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