In Conversation with Greg Wood
Ahead of his solo show with OTOMYS, we sat down with the Australian landscape painter Greg Wood to discuss his new body of work.
OTOMYS: When OTOMYS last sat down with you in 2020, we discussed the body of work you had created for a joint show with artist Sophia Szilagyi, which saw a move away from your trademark blended brushwork and the emergence of more rudimentary style and depiction of new light and colour. With your current exhibition, we can see a return to the delicate, smoky aesthetic of your earlier work. How has your methodology changed and evolved over the past two years?
Greg Wood: During this time, I was working with a smaller scale, which is why looser brushstrokes are more evident. When working with a smaller scale you can approach the canvas in a different way. Here I enjoyed being loose but true. Before this there was another shift towards a looser approach. This was around 2015 or 2016 and was showcased in a body of work presented at Stockroom Kyneton. It was around this time that I started to experiment with mark making and describing the atmosphere more loosely and vigorously, using less paint on the canvas. Here, my layering was far more immediate and dynamic.
OTOMYS: Why have we seen a return to the ‘fog’ and a more sensitive style of painting. What is the conceptual significance behind this stylistic choice?
Greg Wood: My underpainting is still quite loose and colourful. There are layers of different colour and bold brushstrokes that inform the shapes and contours you see in the final ‘foggy’ layer. My layers will really vary. A lot of the time what I try to do is build body before knocking it back and sculpting the forms. The initial layer will determine what the final work will look like. I try to encapsulate the sublime within my work, obscuring the form of the land. I use light, shadow, fog, and mist to obscure the land. I do not intentionally abstract or stylise the landscape; rather, I allow different light and weather conditions to change the atmosphere. I focus on diffused lights and emerging tones, allowing these variables to establish a mood. I try not to be too literal. I like my paintings to be both semi-literal and semi-obscure, playing on the tension that exists between these two ways of seeing. This ‘push and pull’ between reality and obscurity is an important part of my practice.
OTOMYS: What influenced this body of work and your move away from a more muted pallet?
Greg Wood: The shift to the country was the main influence. This was the first body of work I produced here. Living and working in Melbourne makes it challenging to find subject matter; I was surrounded by architecture and harshness, having to looking into neighbours’ gardens and public parks to find inspiration.
My experience within Melbourne is one of the reasons why fog is so important within my work; it is the only time I find Melbourne interesting. The fog softens the harshness of Melbourne and abstract forms organically, creating another dimension. Being immersed in the fog and surrounded by moisture creates another layer to the landscape that allows me to free up my pallet. I can create an immediate description of my environment whilst achieving a unique and otherworldly atmosphere. The fog does the abstraction for me; I play with what’s in front of me rather than hiding it through stylisation and abstraction.
I can achieve this through light too. This is why I am attracted to dawn and dusk – the sun’s harshness isn’t dictating the forms. The morning light, fog and mist allows shadows to diffuse and forms to abstract before my eyes. The title of my upcoming exhibition, Day In Day Out, reflects how these changes are now a part of my everyday landscape. I am able to observe the subtle shifts that occur through the day and into the night. These shifts are registered both consciously and subconsciously. I can play with the obscurity. I exist within the obscurity and do not have to fabricate it. It is there in front of me and around me.
OTOMYS: How do you conceptualise colour within your works?
Greg Wood: I have always been interested in the drama of obscuring form. Within this body of work, I wanted to play with this same concept but use colour. The pink that you see in works like V42 Day In Day Out opens the space up, creating drama and depth. I want to emulate the feeling of being within the warmth of that atmosphere. Even if it is a cold winters afternoon or morning, these bright hues create a sense of warmth. The artwork is only able to capture a fraction of what I experienced in person, but the warmth and vibrancy of the pink surrounds you. I can more realistically immerse the viewer into the experience.
I preference exploration over personal connection. It is the process of making that I am passionate about. I can achieve with colour what I can with tone, and this excites me. As I move into the painting, I slowly discover form. I use the horizon as a tool.
I do not plan out my paintings and allow the canvas to dictate the forms. I immerse myself in the environment, absorbing the smells, light, colours, wind, and moisture before returning to my studio to paint.
When I lived in Tasmania I would paint outside, responding to the freshness of my surroundings. But it is harder to do this nowadays with a family. Moving to the country has allowed me to spend more time with nature, observing the sensations and experiences of my surroundings. My practice is entirely observation based – I do not reference photos or even sketches when I return to the studio. My time spent outdoors generates memories that I call upon when I paint a landscape. This is why I prefer to keep the interpretation of my painting open to the viewer – I want them to engage and connect with a memory and experience that is triggered by looking at my painting. Truth is a crucial part of my work – I want to allow the viewer to relate their truth to mine. If everything is too literal is becomes solid, and it becomes difficult to engage with. I think the landscape needs mystery and subjectivity. Individual experience is crucial.
OTOMYS: What is the meaning behind the title of this exhibition, Day In Day Out?
Greg Wood: The title enforces the idea that moments are fleeting. Each sunset is unique, just as our perception and experience of that moment is unique. The land is always changing, constantly influenced by the wind, light and humidity.
The title must speak about other forces that connect to the power of the land, not just the physicality of it. I seek to amplify the presence of personal experience within the land and the vicissitudes of life that surround the everyday; not hiding the need to survive and carry on, whether it is supporting a family or just getting through each day. There is a melancholic connotation to my work, but also a realness.
But it is important to note that I do not see melancholy as a negative. Life in all its form is not dull, but beautiful and complex. Melancholy is intrinsic to life.
OTOMYS: What locations and memories do you reference in this series, and how do you select which landscapes you paint?
Greg Wood: Most of my paintings are based in my new home in Chewton. But my subject matter follows me around as I travel. I am constantly informed by my surroundings. Even driving from Melbourne to Chewton I am constantly observing and collecting material. I use each painting as a snapshot of a moment I have experienced on my travels. In many ways, they become a painted album of important places I have travelled to and experiences I have shared with my family and fellow travellers.
OTOMYS: Do memories have a significant role within your practice?
Greg Wood: Memories absolutely have a role in my paintings, and the conversations that come from my paintings. That’s why it’s important to spend time engaging with your surroundings, experiencing the wind, mist, rain, and sun. For example, the air is transparent, but when you breath it in and feel it on your skin, it becomes tangible. Painting allows me to replicate this tangibility - I can give body and form to something that is otherwise indivisible. It is not the physicality of the land that I want to portray - it is the experience of the landscape.
OTOMYS: This new body of work also sees an oscillation between small and large works. What was the significance of scale?
Greg Wood: I’m very playful with my use of scale. I think in order to create a real sense of emotion you need to deal with all aspects of the narrative. Scale allows for different experiences; a large painting can divulge so much information that the viewer needs to return to it, whereas a smaller image allows the viewer to digest the composition quicker. A small and intimate painting allows the viewer to claim it – it becomes a vestige of the viewer. A larger work, however, can be shared with the people and space around you.
For this body of work, I tried to keep it local. Many of the works are also in-between places. I don’t like planning my work and don’t complete preparatory sketches. It is a very intuitive process. Beginning with a specific landscape in mind will impede the organic flow of painting. The base layer is when I start to feel emotions, and I allow these feelings to guide my brushstrokes. As I apply more paint, I begin to see tonal forms emerging, which triggers a memory of a past landscape. And that’s how the process begins. I allow the canvas to tell me which way to go.
November 17, 2022