Murray White Room presents Tony Clark – Chinoiserie Landscape 1987–2017.
The exhibition examines an important strand of Tony Clark’s acclaimed oeuvre, drawing upon 30 years of work.
Tony Clark made his artistic debut in 1982 and subsequently established his reputation with what he calls the “atmospheric landscape paintings” he is still best known for.
Alongside these paintings Clark was experimenting with what he describes as an almost opposite approach: to create works inspired by the decorative arts and a Renaissance tradition of paintings that use pictorial illusion to imitate sculptural relief. In this vein, Clark describes seeing Andrea Mantegna’s painting The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome (1505–06) in the National Portrait Gallery, London, as critical to the creation of his Chinoiserie series.
“I was becoming immersed in these atmospheric landscape paintings and I wanted to do something that was almost the opposite of that in the way that it was painted. So, if you look at these paintings a lot of them look like relief sculpture.” Clark says.
“The Chinoiserie works were a break-out for me because I wasn’t tied to the atmospheric paintings. I discovered that the colour itself could provide the atmosphere but not in this glazed, illusionistic way.”
For Clark, Chinoiserie presented a way of exploring Australia’s place in the world.
“When I started doing these it seemed as if people were waking up for the first time to Australia’s socio-cultural identity and its relationship with Asia. I didn’t have an agenda and it wasn’t a political choice but I had a lot of sympathy with a renewed interest in classicism that was in the air at that time, and the Chinoiserie works fitted in with the ancient Greek and Roman references I was also interested in,” he says.
Murray White comments that these early Chinoiserie landscape subjects can be well interpreted in the context of Clark’s most celebrated painting project, Sections from Clark’s Myriorama, dating since 1985 to today.
“The tree, the landscape, the sky, the shifting palette, the artist’s sacred and profane renders of history and the new … Tony Clark’s distinct visual subject matter over 30 years does maintain an eloquent continuity, once the viewer is ‘in the know’, so to speak,” White says.
The exhibition includes historical works, loans from private collections, and Clark’s new and most recent Chinoiserie landscape compositions. A number of unfinished paintings variously dating since 1987 have also been revisited and recently completed by Clark. The artist has finished these pictures in ways informed by the working methods they in fact helped to inspire. In this way, Chinoiserie Landscape 1987– 2017 represents something of a full circle for the artist.
Tony Clark – Chinoiserie Landscape 1987-2017, from 16 February to 29 March 2018, Murray White Room, Sargood Lane, Melbourne.