The Nature of Perception

Exhibition review Howard Taylor: Paintings and Drawings Galerie Dusseldorf, Perth WA 1- 22 September 1996

Howard Taylor's exhibition Paintings Drawings at Galerie Düsseldorf is the second of two exhibitions Taylor has held in this gallery since its relocation in 1995. The inaugural exhibition of Galerie Düsseldorf in March 1995 was devoted to works Taylor produced specifically for the new gallery. Unlike Constructions-Paintings-Drawings-Maquettes of 1995, this latest show is devoted entirely to paintings and drawings which bear a more direct relationship to the landscapes Taylor encounters in Northcliffe where he lives and works.

This exhibition provides a rare opportunity to savour an epicurean sensibility to colour and formal paradoxes - the fixed versus the amorphous. The highly resolved surfaces of Taylor's works resonate, at times producing sublime images which reveal a vigorous movement and a contemplative stasis. In some works the revelations of colour and surface refer to more than the way in which we perceive form and the modification of the perceptual process.

Along one wall of the gallery is a series of small intense landscapes in which Taylor records the palpable and impalpable forces of nature. Taylor's technical and pictorial skills enable him to transcend literal descriptions of natural and organic phenomena to convey the velocities of nature. In Sunny Day, (oil on canvas on board) light spills across the canvas bleaching out definition, blurring and obliterating the margins of space and object. This ambiguous play of form and nature recurs in Windy Day (oil on canvas on board). In this work Taylor manipulates the oil paint to the point where it is transformed into shimmering whirlwinds of energy which threaten to sweep the trees beyond the confines of the canvas. Here the application of paint confounds the distinction between windswept trees and sky to produce a ghostly fusion appropriate to the phantom subject. Through subtle interpretation and translation into oil, Taylor recreates the experience of his viewing.

Taylor's persistent investigation into the nature of perception is common to all the works in this exhibition. The architectonic works Colonnade Study and Tree Banks reveal a fascination with the formal potential of surface and a rigorous use of paint which clearly demonstrates his ongoing interrogation into the nature of making art. As Ted Snell wrote in his 1995 study, Howard Taylor: forest figure:

"This play with colour and surface reveals the ways in which we perceive forms and the ways in which that perceptual process can be modified. It also actively engages the viewer in physically moving around the paintings to note the changes and record the subtle shifts in form generated by the variation in colour and surface." (1)
Tree Banks is a painting which yields much for those who choose to move around and change their angle of vision. As the physical distance between image and spectator increases, the certainties which are induced by the illusionist space of Tree Banks are radically overthrown - one's confidence in how we perceive is shaken and a fascinating mobility sets in. In this painting the visual play between the differences of the texture of the canvas and the oil paint pushed across its surface provokes a variety of perceptions. In some way the image transcends itself, it is momentarily destroyed and reinvented as the unity and substantiality of the curving thicket of luminous trees dissolves to become something incorporeal. Taylor presents nature as visible, knowable and ordered but alternative angles of vision reveal nature as mysterious and unpredictable. His concern with 'unknown' as well as apparent realities is intertwined with his concern for the certainties and uncertainties of perception. As with a mirage, what is taken as reality is based upon trickery and the day-to-day fluency of the world and our place in it is destabilised.

On the opposite wall to the small works are several large oil and acrylic paintings which reveal Taylor's continuing fascination with distilling elemental phenomena - in this case sun and moon. Bush Fire Sun is a large work in which the canvas is covered by a translucent veil of shimmering silver-grey paint. We are forewarned of the potential of an unsettling engagement with Bush Fire Sun through its title. At the centre of the work is a pulsating red sphere.
The movement of this orb with its highly resolved surface produces a shifting viewing position. Looking down on the sphere is quickly transformed into an act of viewing in which the sphere protrudes towards and recedes away from the viewer. The pulsating fireball which threatens to explode from the restraining surface of the canvas generates a response which mimics the painterly movement. As a source of life and death the bush fire has mythical resonances in Australia - it is both creator of life and destroyer of life. It gives but simultaneously takes life and it is this oscillation between two extreme positions which Taylor evokes not only in the movement of the sphere but also in the viewer.

The process of the artist's painstaking observations are partially described in the series of small drawings toward the back of the gallery space. These small ink drawings are a rare example of fine draughtsmanship. These works document the forms of the landscape around Northcliffe with a precision and honesty that comes from a lifetime of patient observation and concern for his subject. Taylor comments on his observations in these works by analysing the play of light and the construction of the illusion of three-dimensional objects as thoroughly as he does in his large oils.

This outstanding exhibition is a testimony to a life time of remarkable achievements.

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