Every artist searches for a subject and in turn imparts what they feel to be their stamp upon it. Guy Warren has made this his business for some time now, he is 88. I mention this in passing because Warren’s age is less a testament to worldly wiles and painterly skills, of which he has in abundance, but more, that as an artist, Guy Warren remains inventive and curious.
In this exhibition Warren’s predilection for description is seen in both the long, and the unfolding drawing of the Nullarbor. The painting Nullarbor evening, 2009 and the individual watercolours such as Ghost for past travellers, 2009 beg the place of man within this vast space. Exotic and distant locations such as the Nullabor have always figured greatly in Warren’s imagination: New Guinea, London, the bush. Warren is always thinking about the next journey; what experience that might bring and what it might present for his art.
The words motion, engine and travel all describe Warren’s approach to drawing. Motion is in fact one of the keys. Guy Warren has made drawings from trains and the back of moving vehicles and famously an aeroplane, as he did in The fall of Icarus sky drawing over Sydney Harbour, 1994. Warren uses movement to say something else about drawing. It is part of his inventive spirit but also a need to engage. It is about Warren ‘being alive and alert in the world,’ as Norbert Lynton has pointed out.
Imagine a dense rainforest above which hangs a patchwork canopy. Light streams through and around the branches. There is a sense of bright heat immanent in the forms and in the blues, yellows and scarlet pinks that colour the impression. The experience of being a figure in a landscape and moving through that landscape is what Warren is able to achieve in many of his paintings. I am thinking here of Warren’s Entangled, 2003 and Hot day coming, 2003, two larger and earlier pictures, where colour and sinuous line combine to create a simultaneous effect.
It is where Warren is with the paintings of this exhibition such as, The Hut and the dreamers, 2002 -9 and Walking through the landscape, 2008 and in a sense where he has always been, immersed, yet active in the landscape. In The Hut and the dreamers, Warren is returning to an image of a small dwelling he built at Jamberoo, and to an earlier painting, Sanctuary of 1997. In Sanctuary the image relied largely on the graphic form of the shed set against the landscape. In The Hut and the dreamers Warren is being inventive with familiar material; he is shape – shifting. The head suggests archaic forms and the dwelling a temple, ipso facto, the prone figure in the foreground, a sarcophagus.
In Walking through the landscape, 2008 Warren has animated a figure horizontally across the picture’s plane so that the figure seems to revolve. Graphic elements have their part to play as do bright colours. From the top right a serpentine black line wriggles across the image and ends suddenly above three circular blue patches. To their left a stroke of vermilion is weighed against other blue lines. These marks run counter to the figure’s passage whilst their colour ties the human form to the turquoise ground of the painting.
To say that Warren is painting the inside and outside of experience is no exaggeration. I am still not quite sure how he does it, how he is able to suggest an experience of the present, and more profoundly, the metamorphosis of figure into landscape. To suggest Ovid is perhaps not fanciful. In the poem Metamorphoses, Ovid transforms human beings into trees and the flesh of his characters into stone. This parallels Warren’s efforts at ground level as he goes about making his equivalents in paint and line, looking ever toward the transcendent, yet firmly grounded in terra localis.
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