Ocean & Earth

A Moment Of Your Time

Abstraction always seems to be at odds with figuration. An artist may go in one direction, leaving behind painterly language that suggests a picture is a representation of something in the world, and sail ever on towards a realm of form and colour cut adrift from the real, or they may idle in the warm glow of recognisable places and things. In Ocean and Earth Craig Waddell is trying to balance between the two – some pictures here are avowedly engaged with the world of the abstract, while others contain enough clues to find a ship, a sky, a cloud, a hill or a horizon line within. The uniting factor here is Waddell’s painterly style, a loose and gestural approach to making paintings that is also considered and deliberate. Waddell creates drawings, photos and tonal colour charts from locations he finds inspirational. From this process and the drawings in particular, the artist makes a deliberate move away from his studies towards a direct dialogue between his imagination, memory and the canvas surface and his materials. Working on up to six canvases at a time, he then slowly builds up each in relation to others in the studio and then, once a point of impasse is reached, he puts them away to begin on a new group of paintings. At some point, he returns to the pictures to reconsider his options. It is then, after more work, the paintings are completed. Given the extended nature of their creation, the works show a remarkable consistency, a testament to the artist’s skill.

Waddell has also attempted to configure within the paintings an actual physical rendering of his sensory experiences. Working for a year on this series, the artist shifted between the inspirational landscapes he found around the NSW town of Orange to an imaginary seascape accompanied by skies reminiscent of JWM Turner and the sketchy vessels that recall the calligraphic deftness of Cy Twombly. Waddell has deliberately sought to represent the traces of this back and forth in the preserved lines of solidified paint, from the warm, tonal earthiness of the ‘land’ to the cool, blues and greens of the ‘sea’. Since one place is a real location and the other a region of the mind, the attempt to describe this journey is largely an imaginative one.

The landscapes here seem the most anchored to the real world, albeit seen through the choices the artist has made in making them, while the seascapes appear more abstract, but a clue to the artist’s intentions are in the revealing titles. His landscapes refer to colours and perspectives – Pilbara Peaks suggests a specific location, but it is also the name of the red paint he uses to make the image. The seascapes such as Amore appear completely formless but the emotive title suggests an internal experience rather than an attempt to describe an objective reality. This approach is reinforced in other works such as Flowers turned into Petals and Without love we are birds without Wings. It might seem that this confusion between inner and outer senses has the suggestion of a synaesthetic response, but to my mind it is a very effective evocation of what it is to see and experience the world , not just as one as remembers it or recalls it, but, and just as importantly, as one feels it.

It was the philosopher Immanuel Kant who proposed that time was an idea that allows us to comprehend our sensory experiences. With the concept of time we can order and recall what we have seen. From the distant past of our childhoods the sense memories of strong emotional responses seems as real now as they did when we first experienced them, while faint experiences we had just yesterday are already lost to us. Arthur Schopenhauer later formulated the proposition that “time is the condition of the possibility of succession” – that is, that one thing may follow another thing. One must begin somewhere. To put these ideas into the context of art, every new painting is only possible because of the existence of others that have preceded it. They may be the work of the one artist or they may be the pictures of artists long dead or located in other far off countries, yet in the mind of the painter and the viewer they live on as suggestions of their own histories in the body of the new work. Craig Waddell’s Ocean and Earth is a record of sensory perceptions captured in time, both of the land and sea that inspired their creation, but also of a knowing engagement by the artist with the history of painting. They are the embodiment of the possibility of succession.