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Category Archives: Art talk

Why OutbackArt?

By | Art talk, Gallery | No Comments

It struck me today, in the midst of juggling the viral Alpaca gone mad video thing and emails, images, licencing etc….. that it seems odd that my website is called OutbackArt!

I mean, like, what the hell?  Chrome naked ladies against seascape backgrounds, with fish, monkeys, beachballs, Alpaca videos, travel videos………..hu?

I’d better start at the beginning I suppose.  You see life wasn’t always this complicated.

I once lived in a little mining town in the middle of the Australian outback, called Broken Hill.  Many of you would know Broken Hill, even if you’ve never been there.  Think of : Priscilla queen of the desert, wake in fright, razorback, town like Alice (yes Broken Hill was  used as a substitute in scenes for Alice Springs) Outback bound, Race the  sun etc and of course….Mad Max2.

Now of Mad Max… see when I was a teenager, we went to the movies and saw this cracker of a film with this bloke we’d never heard of called Mel Gibson. I think I saw him in a poncy film called ‘Tim’ but never took much notice.

Fast forward about 8 years and holy schmoly,  I find myself living in the same town Mad Max was filmed in. Not only that, a few years later, I found myself as the new tenant of the 110 year old, abandoned Catholic church high on the hill in sunny Silverton!  You can’t get closer to Mad Max than that!   Many of the car chase scenes, including the final chase with the tanker, were filmed just outside Silverton on the road to the Mund Mundi plains.

Anyhow, I digress.  So for the next 6 years, that dusty old church was my studio gallery. Here I produced hundreds of paintings, met hundreds of thousand of people (not exaggerating) and lived and breathed the ‘outback way of life’. Well, after a move into town to a ‘city’ gallery in the main street, a few more years passed and it became apparent that the time was upon us to leave the dustbowl of Broken Hill for greener climes. What more greener than God’s own country in sunny Queensland.

So we upped stumps and hauled ourselves 1800 kms to the Sunshine Coast, where we now reside on a few green leafy acres, with two mad dogs,  a heap of wildlife and 9 spoilt Alpacas.

In the midst of all this madness you call life, we would regularly travel overseas. Most often to places you’ve never heard of, nor would ever want to go!  Now I would always take a camera with me, then later a video camera too. After nearly two decades of travelling, we have enough photos to bore an entire generation shitless, let alone our poor earbashed photo inundated friends.  Hence the photo pages of the site. I can now bore a whole new generation of people in other countries too, completely shitless with my photos!!   🙂

Which brings me to closing….  Hence the photography/ film fetish and the inevitable boredom that sets in… between painting and travelling to places that are hard to find on a map. So…. film Alpacas!  I just happened to catch one of the babies (a Cria) napping and filmed it. This sat in the cupboard for 2 years before I dragged out the tape, transcoded it to the computer and last week, threw it together with some music and uploaded it to You Tube.

And here I am……..  better go do some real work now….   Shane

What makes a good painting?

By | Art talk | One Comment

So what exactly is it that constitutes a good painting? What is it that makes us view a painting and say, mmm, I like that!

I have theorized over this many times and have my own theories, but the other day I heard one that really caught my attention.

In an interview on ABC radio, professor of philosophy of art, Denis Dutton, theorized that our love of art, particularly  the tradition of landscape painting, is hard wired into our brain and Psyche. Professor Dutton offers his theory of the ‘Savannah hypothesis’ as follows:

” In the early 1990s a couple of Russian expatriate artists named Komar and Melamid in New York got some money from the Nation Foundation in order to find out what people’s tastes were around the world. So they did some actually serious scientific polling in ten countries (they ended up actually doing more than ten but the original publication list was ten countries) to find out what their favourite subject matter for painting was, what their favourite colour was, if a painting told a story what kind of story they would like it to tell, if they liked abstract art or if they liked representative art and so on. And they did this in the Ukraine, Denmark, France, Holland I think, the US, Kenya, China, Iceland, Turkey…”

What they discovered was :

” the overwhelming favourite of all the other countries which was that they liked landscapes. They like landscapes not only that you would expect from, let’s say, Americans, but they liked landscapes where you had people…let’s say, in Kenya, for example, where they didn’t have the kind of landscapes in question, those were the kind of landscapes they kept choosing. In other words, what everybody in the world seems to like is a kind of standard calendar landscape. And we call it a ‘calendar landscape’ because in fact it exists in calendars across the world.

It includes open spaces with lower mown grasses, thickets of bushes, maybe groupings of trees, copses of trees, the presence of water or water indirectly shown, maybe in the distance, an unimpeded view of the horizon somewhere, the presence of animals, and especially what people seemed to like is some kind of a path. It could be a river bank but often it’s a path or a way which you could take to walk into the distance to go over those last hills to see what’s on the other side. “

Professor Dutton went on to say:

“But there’s another way to look at it and that’s the Savannah Hypothesis. That is to say that the reason that people all over the world gravitate toward this same kind of landscape is that this is the landscape where we evolved, this was the most advantageous landscape for human beings in the Pleistocene, in the savannahs where we came into being as modern human beings, and that’s why you continue to find it. You’d find all sorts of different interests in different kinds of landscapes around the world. But some interesting experiments have been done with children showing that when you take the standard 8-year-old in Europe or Australia or South America or Africa they will tend to choose a landscape which has the savannah features. That is to say it has trees that fork near the ground (that’s interesting; trees that fork near the ground are popular), undulating spaces, open areas where you can hide and where game might hide. It seems to be some kind of an atavism. “

This theory tends to sit well with me. It has been my experience that most people gravitate towards a nice landscape, be it  a photograph, painting or drawing.

Think wall calendars, not the one with nude models (that’s a different story again) but the ones with the serene landscape. The open vista of rolling hills and trees, the lake surrounded by trees and backed with snow capped mountains, that all seem to evoke in us some primordial longing for something that we have lost touch with.

Even in my own work I have experienced this. Many times I have ventured into different territory with my paintings, sometimes omitting the landscape element altogether. Each time the result has been the same, less people like those works than the ones that contain elements of the landscape.

Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish surrealist also knew this.  His paintings almost always contain the vistas of the Catalan region where he lived. Red earthy desert-like landscapes, empty mystic beaches and rugged coastlines, the type of environment our neolithic hunter gatherer ancestors knew well.

Perhaps it’s our gradual separation from this environment that evokes a deep subconscious longing for the landscape. As many of us now live in cities or the urban environs, we tend to look fondly to our romantic notions of  ‘the bush’ or going camping down by the river, or hiking in the mountains. Perhaps there is an opportunity there for an adventure tourist company: “come on holiday with us in the savannah, hunting, fishing, spearing live animals and eating their raw livers!  We’ll bring out the Cro Magnon in you!”

Of course as humans, we have evolved intellectually and tend to crave challenge and creativity. Thus we have moulded, kneaded and manipulated that ‘savannah longing’ through abstraction, modernism, pointillism,surrealism, dada-ism and so on and so forth, to where we are today, with art in its many shapes, forms and ideals.

Which brings me back to the original statement!  What makes a good painting?

Well beyond the Savannah theory, here are my theories:

Balance: There is nothing worse than a lop sided painting!  By that, I mean a work that has too much ‘stuff’ painted over one side or top or bottom. The basic rule of art/ photography, is the rule of two thirds. One third sky and two thirds land and vice versa. Many a good painting has been ruined by bad balance!

Composition: When you look at a good painting, your eye is drawn to the most important part of the piece. Usually just off centre, what you don’t realize, is that a good painting, will lead your eye over the whole canvas, then draw you to this point. Many of the famous old masters, were experts of composition. Most compositions are based around a triangular structure, which leads your eye around the painting. One of Leonardo’s famous paintings, Madonna of the rocks, is a circular composition, just brilliant. Have you ever see a painting that appears to be rendered beautifully,  you like the subject and the colour, but something just does not seem quite right?  Look a little closer, with a basic comprehension of structure, you will probably find that the composition has been botched!

Colour: Colour is an important facet of our lives, it can affect our mood and emotions, it represents so much symbolism in our culture and mythology .  Bright vibrant paintings, make for a lively atmosphere. Dark coloured paintings make for a sombre, reflective mood. Blue, is melancholy, red is angry, green is sublime and so on.

Colours that we can perceive from the visble electromagnetic spectrum are basically red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and voilet (ROY G BIV!)  In painting, these colours are broken down into groups. Primary, secondary, triadic and complimentary. These combinations of primary, secondary and complimentary colours work together to form patterns and forms that are aesthetically pleasing to the human eye.  If this basic law of colours is broken when producing a work of art, then our perception is that of ‘unpleasantness’ or something being fundamentally wrong  with the work.

Subject Matter: Here we come full circle again, back to the Savannah theory. I believe the subject matter also determines the success of a work. Someone once said to me “You know why the famous Australian artist Pro Hart is so successful? Because he paints people doing things”  This stuck in my brain for many years and I still believe it to this day.

Pro’s works were all based around the landscape. Particularly the ‘bush’ and desert environs of Broken Hill.   This is the romantic landscape of the ‘outback’, the harsh Australian environment that has been expounded in many books, movies, poetry and folk lore in Australia.  Pro then added the elements of people and every day social activities. Cricket games, footy, church services, outback station life and so on. Together with his colourful lively technique, this was a recipe for success and one that endeared Pro Hart’s work into the hearts of many Australians, myself included.

What’s your thoughts on this?

Shane Gehlert