Today I visited Newcastle Art Gallery where there was a Philip Wolfhagen exhibition.
Wolfhagen is from Longford Tasmania, at his touring exhibition he had mini documentary about himself, which me and a few other artsy baby boomer types took the time to watch on a comfy modern couch.
Wolfhagen’s work is mostly landscapes his images of the sky are very similar to that of William Turner. They are quite dark and heavy and he paints mainly using the palette knife using very dull colours that he mixes with bees wax. His paintings have a touch of Early Australian colonial paintings like Joseph Lycett and John Glover.
For those of you who have never used oil paint, the subject of the sky in this medium lends itself to abstraction. It becomes much more about how we ‘think’ they should look. Clouds move and change and take on all sorts of colours, often in Turners pictures we see his own emotions erupt and bubble onto the canvas while he navigates the geometry of a cloud.
It is at first easy to be fooled into thinking that Wolfhagen is a realist, some images tend to give you the impression he is making a statement about society. His night time images of the landscape with small clusters of lights indicating the human presence seem to be bristling with a kind of depressing yearning.
In the caption for his paintings Litany of vapours he writes “I was thinking of climate change when I painted this” does this gives away Wolfhagen’s state of mind? His dream of the natural and wish to rise above society altogether and transcend the banality of everyday life? Or is this a dire warning a forboding image of the grey dark turbulent world we are creating.
Wolfhagen is at heart an abstract expressionist and under each painting is dark under painting that he purposefully leaves spaces around the edge of to give a look of wearing or like a Jasper Johns painting giving the feeling that just underneath is something; and I want you all to see that I am doing my best to contain it all.
Some of his paintings are unshakably John Rothko in flavour, where the dream of the city and the country merge. The spaces shapes and colours of the modern world are just there to see.
Many pictures are dull and depressing, some are strikingly clear and blue / grey in a way that reminds me of looking the at the world after half a dozen Valiums. There is an idealism here but a yearning for civilization as well.
Wolfhagen gives me the impression he is one of those artists who has done well from doctors and Lawyers and now from national galleries. He is being adopted by Australian Galleries in their canon because he is doing what they want of him : being a modern artist painting the Australian landscape.
I felt distant from Wolfhagen at first but after a while I warmed to his paintings if you look hard enough his style is a bit of a blend, Wolfhagen is a simmering artist someone that could potentially surprise people.