John Scurry

Scurry's new landscapes, on show at Queenscliff Gallery, bring expressionistic layers of paint and a precisely rendered realism into conversation with each other.

John Scurry’s new works in oil and watercolour are most obviously ‘about’ landscape: a life lived within it, the artist’s attachments to it, and the way that light shifts through it at different hours and latitudes. Though Scurry is known just as much for his interiors and other genre work, these landscapes speak of his devotion to his surrounds. Settings vary from Manly Beach to Gippsland, to England and some Nordic destination – though with this last most clearly, the ‘setting’ may be just as much conceptual, imaginative, or remembered as it is literal. And ‘surround’ the artist the landscape very much does: across the warm skies of these paintings waft skin-like swathes of colour which seem to propose that the outdoors and the artist’s indoors – that is, his sense of himself as a subject, and an embodied one – are very much bound up in one another.

However, these paintings might also be ‘about’ clarity: what a sharpness of vision allows one to see, how painting itself can be a clarifying technology, and how landscape (and landscape paintings) might help us towards a clearer understanding of our social, emotional, and political lives. Certainly these new works are characterised by a clearer definition of line and shape than Scurry’s earlier landscapes. Some works in the show can help us to see this by functioning as a mid-point between Scurry’s most precisely-rendered realism and his highest degree of Romantic expression. In Cliff (2020), for instance, a recognisable  feature of the landscape looms out of the sea, clearly defined and outlined from the sky behind it. Still, though, the strokes and scratches of paint which make up the dark cliff face are themselves so vitally material, so expressive and alive in themselves, that ‘depiction’ is not all the painting is doing. Scurry’s more recent paintings, which make up the majority of the pieces in this new show, are by comparison far more concerned with clarity of representation. We can see perfectly the textures of the water and grasses; our eye even gets a clear run into the blue sky in most instances. And, yet, the clarity of these works is not just to do with representation: rather, in depicting named, particular places, and in responding to named, particular events (we cannot look at Smoke, for example, without clearly seeing the Black Summer fires), these paintings use the equipment of a painting to clearly appraise the ordinary and extraordinary of our lives in nature. Painting is, in these pictures, a way of grappling with the world outside of the painting, and of refining it down to intelligibility.

The intelligible seems something quite humble, to Scurry: that is, there are no grand claims to representing the order of the natural universe here. Rather, more aptly, there is an engagement with landscape which is both affectionate and uncompromising, observational and imaginative.

John Scurry: Landscapes Seen/Imagined
1 April – 19 April 2021
Queenscliff Gallery, Victoria



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