Greg Wood Q + A | Eternal Shift
Eternal Shift is the first collective exhibition featuring the work of Greg Wood and Sophia Szilagyi. An artistic connection between them lies in their deep reach to the semi-conscious state of the mind’s eye, expressing emotion through sublime silent landscapes, beyond the visual of a landscape as we may see it.
‘Laying paint on the canvas without consciousness allows for pure abstraction, but then consciousness kicks in along with realism, and as these states of mind merge your eyes suddenly see a literal reference to the landscape.’ – Greg Wood.
Your art offers us a portal to imaginary lands, and during a time when we’re unable to travel, your work offers us the sanctuary that travel once did. Tell us about the real or imagined places that most influence your work?
I don’t consciously imagine or paint a landscape – my paintings are triggered by a memory or emotion around a landscape scene. A landscape experience exists and then you move away from it and it leaves a trace; the memory or experience of it lingers. There is no specific or actual place I refer to, in that sense the places I paint are abstract and imagined. Layering paint on the canvas without consciousness allows for pure abstraction, but then consciousness kicks in along with realism, and as these states of mind merge your eyes suddenly see a literal reference to the landscape.
Which is the dominant of the two – the real or imagined?
It’s really both, sometimes one is more powerful than the other but the mystery between the two is almost the makeup of the painting. The obscurity evolves from the state of consciousness, the going in and out of focus. It is quite complex as a landscape, the layering of the dreamlike state is the fogginess you experience, it’s that point of dreaming which sort of puts you on edge you want to see more, as you’re waking up, you’re semi holding onto a feeling of a dream, where you want to investigate further and stay longer.
I love the layers in a landscape but to be too literal all those elements are forgotten and become less of the association of the painting than where I would like it to be.
Imagine if your dreams were so close to reality that they felt real – you wouldn’t care about them anymore, so I’m playing with extending the viewers interest as well, and that’s the process of pushing and pulling forms in my work. But within me I have a connection more with the obscure than with a perfect bright sunny day.
Is there a favourite place you would like to return to, a sanctuary perhaps and why?
When I was studying my undergraduate degree, I moved to Tassie and after the first year of trying to understand the complexities in the Tasman landscape; it’s deeply layered with a lot of energy, that was the beginning of my interest in a landscape that you cannot make sense of, one that you cannot truly see. In most parts of Tasmania you can be within 10 metres of this amazing vista and then it suddenly shuts down into a fog and almost disappears. I was excited by this and tried to paint like this, by bringing things to the surface and then shutting it all down with a blanket of white depth. Through the years the information in each painting has becomes less obvious and more obscure.
We are now living in fascinating times and the painting style we see in Eternal Shift shows a subtle change from your traditional smooth cashmere brushwork; the linen of your painted surface is revealed; your brushstroke is more rudimentary and we see new light and colour. Where has this change in methodology come from?
This was a progressive shift, leading up to this global shift – I wanted to feel the under painting of the work to allow it to energise the painting – I didn’t want to be too heavy handed and disregard this element of the work. The state of the world right now further supported my desire to be looser to be more relaxed, with less worry and layering over my work; it helped me explore other possibilities. It has been a fresh painter’s exercise – being true to what I want to achieve. Holding the viewer’s interest but allowing the painting to hold its own.
I have been working on a level of obscurity for over twenty years and what’s different about my paintings now during this lockdown is that I’m looking at landscapes in surfaces that trigger an emotional response possibly to places that I’m familiar with. Given I haven’t been able to personally get outdoors much, I’ve referred to stone and weathered surfaces such as water markings on a treated pine fence which for me create landscapes. I deal with the landscape in a unique and individual way – I constantly see landscapes in the smallest places.
This is not a new idea for me because when I was in Brussels on an art residency, I was based in a city so I took inspiration from the stone walls and streets which have experienced the same treatment of exposure to the weather, overtime the wind, rain, sun and snow has changed tones, texture and added depth to the stone surfaces visually – again the observation lends itself to the obscure imagination – finding the balance between abstraction and realism guides me. I move from one side to the other just keeping the unsettled moment somewhere in the middle.
You seem to treat your art as a human in some way Greg, it seems to have a life for you.
Yes, most certainly it does, it is a growing relationship and requires nurturing. There are no pre-conceived ideas in my work, I don’t want to bring this to the canvas, I try not to have too many plans before I start – I think this can suffocate the work.
Tell us something about the mood of your studio, do you surround yourself with visual or auditory stimulation?
I do, I have to be in the zone otherwise I cannot paint – I relax into my work, sometimes I just need to paint but other times I use paint on a canvas to explore my mood before I work on a painting. The translation from me to the brush to the canvas has to flow or it doesn’t work. Music is a great escape for me, I find Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt are my go-tos; particularly Metamorphosis and Glassworks by Philip Glass. Anything with repetition and no lyrics seems to flow into me – they help me create rhythm.
This is a loose transcription of a zoom interview between Otomys Contemporary Founding Director Megan Dicks and Greg Wood, ahead of the online exhibition opening.