John R Walker has confirmed his place in the ranks of Australia’s great landscape painters. His portraits of the Braidwood district have come to define the landscape of the region. It is Walker’s keen vision and poetic sensibility that have transformed this scratchy bush and overgrazed paddocks into some of the most powerfully evocative landscape paintings of the past decade.
Thus, it will be a surprise to many to find Walker immersed in his neighbour’s old shed. This exhibition lavishes attention on the untouched contents and weatherworn exterior of a classic Australian out-building. Gone are the open plains and broad views, replaced by a particular focus on, in and around this little shelter. Actually, as with all Walker’s work, ‘the shed’ is a reduction of several sheds, which only adds to the essential nature of these new works.
In Walker’s hands, the interior, with tables full of bric-a-brac and old machinery, shrouded by years of inattention, are transformed into dark palace interiors. Old grinders atop ancient benches become sculptures and stacked building leftovers become opulent loot. In the largest interior, an olive green space appears lit by candlelight, but it is actually the light filtering through cracks between hand-hewn boards. The vast space belies its humble reality. Junk becomes treasure in Walker’s eye and hand.
On the outside, a door, some steps, a loading dock form iconic structures. Functional devices raised to the status of regal structures, rough hewn and substantial, they epitomise the Australian bush architecture. Hand made, by hard labour, to last. Photographs of the actual building attest to their structure but it is Walker’s paintings that capture their nature and the history they contain. In the process, a shed becomes ‘The Shed’, a most familiar structure bearing witness to part of our history and outliving those who made it.
Of course, as ever, Walker finds interest in the detail, and the hinges, bindings and bolts that secure these structures have been singled out for special attention. These hand wrought items have an integral beauty from their formation at the blacksmith’s anvil, the patination of use and transformation by the elements. Set against the almost abstract repetition of ubiquitous corrugated iron, the sculptural integrity of their function and service is honestly acknowledged.
In fact the revelation of the shed, in all its aspects, is an experience all of us familiar with the bush immediately relate to. Many will empathise with sheds they have entered and known. Others may remember a private place, a timeless zone, a childhood memory, when they have confronted what seemed like a fortress only to find an enchanted world within.
So in oil and gouache, Walker takes us on a journey through these structures, and reminds us, beautifully, of our short time in this place.
© Christopher Hodges 2010