The American writer Samuel R. Delaney strove for what he termed a ‘resonance between idea and landscape’. In Delaney’s work character and place echoed one another, mere setting becoming integral to understanding not just motivation and action, but also meaning. What Delaney understood is that every landscape tells us a story. The rise of ground that lifts up to meet a line of trees, or the play of clouds across the rise and fall of hills, or the arc of a lonely road across a dusty expanse, every iteration of land and space tells a unique tale.
Amanda Penrose Hart’s pictures capture that sense of strange familiarity we have with place – we sense it perhaps more than know it, yet its emotional resonance is acute. We are continually drawn back to a landscape that’s taken from life.
Hart’s canvases depict landscapes around New South Wales, some near to her studio in Sofala, others around the central west of the state, others in the Southern Highlands near Canberra and Lake George. Penrose Hart is an en plain air painter, driving around in search of a location, using her instinct rather than a GPS to guide her, always on the look out for a scene that’s compelling enough to make her stop and set up her large-scale canvases.
What transpires then is a record, a capturing of the intimate stories of those landscapes, the surfaces worked and fashioned into something close to a finished state. The paintings are then put into the back of Hart’s ute, and driven back to the studio where layers of dust, insects and other debris accumulated in the oil paint are carefully removed. Sometimes more work is done on the pictures, other times very little is changed, the works then framed, destined for the gallery.
What first captures us in these pictures is the familiarity of place – the hard tumble of rocks and eroded banks of creeks and rivers, the sparse ground under high altitude forests, or the vast stretch of sky over flat farm and grazing lands. But what keeps us in these pictures isn’t so much knowing the landscape, but rather sensing that a story hidden within theses works might be unraveled from their details.
Returning to these places for her paintings for more than a decade, Penrose Hart has produced a body of work that records the matter-of-fact existence of these landscapes in their shifting season and climate, from summer to winter, from heat to cold, from abundance to drought. This is the story of the work: the play of light on the land, the life that is found there, and the choices made by the artist in her selection of subject and framing.
The surprise of Penrose Hart’s painting is that it feels so homely, so knowable, and yet it remains seductive in its ease. But the idea here, the one that resonates with this viewer, is that a moment of contemplation is captured within the picture, and it’s one that can be revisited every time you look at the work. The consequence of these pictures is that we know these places, and that frisson of recognition is immensely pleasurable. It’s a sense of knowing, but it’s also one of truthfulness that’s immensely affecting for the soul.
Published to coincide with Amanda Penrose Hart’s Paintings, King Street Gallery, 2019.