Guy Warren

Guy Warren's 'From the Mountain to the Sky' opens at the National Art School's Drawing Gallery on April 17, 2021 - the artist's 100th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, Artist Profile Issue 54 featured a preview on the show, examining the technology of drawing as Warren has treated it in his prolific, cross-continental career.

Marking the Bend in the Track 2 (2020) is a new watercolour work on the program in ‘From the Mountain to the Sky: Guy Warren Drawings’. Looking at it, we follow an ochre path through the space of the picture, up and away to the right, the colour becoming only more insistent about itself as we follow it along. Through the rest of the space, lines multiply; sometimes they seem to represent plants, sometimes animal forms, even flashes of outlines that look like human bodies. This is a fitting work to include in this show, which follows the track of Warren’s eighty-or-so years of artistic practice. Throughout it all, as the exhibition attests, a commitment to mark-making – to paint, to pencil, and to the flat surface – has remained with Warren as he’s traversed landscapes both geographic and cultural, and made his own indelible marks on the track of Australian art history.  

This will be the first in-person show at The Drawing Gallery – the exhibition space attached to the National Art School’s (NAS) Centre for Drawing. Through a robust program of workshops, events, publications, and residencies, the centre nurtures practice, research, and scholarship in drawing. Underpinning this work is a refreshing conviction that drawing  has both a rich history and a vibrant future. It encourages us to think of drawing as not only as a technique but as a technology: a set of conceptual and practical tools that can be used to take the matter of the past(s) and present(s) and transform it into something else: something more provocative, future-tensed and soaked in possibility, or even in a politics. An artist whose work emerges from this attitude, Warren is an apposite choice for the first on-the-ground show at The Drawing Gallery. 

Opening on his 100th birthday, the show surveys an astoundingly long period of invention from the National Art School alumnus. Following five years’ service with the AIF in the Second World War, Warren studied at NAS from 1947 to 1949. This period in Sydney, where he would eventually settle down to make work and to teach, sat between formative stints further afield. These included a period spent training with the defence force in the rainforest at Canungra, and then a deployment in New Guinea as part of his service; both of these landscapes would reveal themselves as indelibly imprinted on the artist’s memory and imagination later in his life.

The biospheres and emotional landscapes of his youth have proven  immensely generative for Warren. Recent works in this survey exhibition continue a path of inquiry into the Australasian landscapes that have fascinated him for so long. A sense of these landscapes as being in a symbiotic relationship to the human is insisted upon in these pieces. Certainly Warren has been interested in the human figure, winning the Archibald Prize in 1985, but one of his significant conceptual contributions has been this thinking of the human and the land as co-defining categories. His landscape works feel, partly, an Antipodean answer to Romantic thinking: they probe the constitutive power of the perceiving subject in nature, or the way people and the land make their marks each upon the other. We might also consider them a kind of post-humanist painting, emerging from the experience of technological impact on human life that Warren would have encountered during the second World War, and preceding the popular posthuman turn in universities in the late twentieth century by some decades. 

Warren acknowledges that much of this thinking in, through, and of landscape responds to the traditions of Indigenous and Pacific Islands cultures. He understands these varied cultures as having historically conceived of a deep interdependence between people and the land, where a Western landscape tradition has, rather, been underpinned by a nature-culture binary. In this way, the politics that he makes of the land through the technology of mark-making celebrate the Australian landscape in an anti-colonial key, deeply personal and built upon memories and haptic experiences though they also are. It’s work that attends closely to what it is to be a person with a relationship to place, to colour, to shape, and to a life devoted to the act of making a mark on a page.   

From the Mountain to the Sky: Guy Warren Drawings
17 April – 22 May 2021
The Drawing Gallery, National Art School, Sydney

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