Greg Wood and Sophia Szilagyi: Eternal Shift

5 - 21 August 2020
  • ‘In the first decade of the twenty first century, the most successful artists are those who have embraced the strange,...

     ‘In the first decade of the twenty first century, the most successful artists are those who have embraced the strange, the unsettling, the mystical, the occult.’

    - Simon Gregg, New Romantics. *

     

    Eternal Shift is the first collective exhibition featuring the work of Australian artists, Greg Wood and Sophia Szilagyi. The artistic connection between these artists 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.

     

    Both artists have approached the theme Eternal Shift, with a slight 'shift’ in style. 

     

    Greg Wood has pared back the layering of his oils on canvas, often sensitively expressing the character of his brushstrokes and the canvas, allowing the detail, where the observation allows, to obscure the 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.’ 

  • Through the medium of digital printmaking, Sophia Szilagyi is showing a body of new work, including the unique split images...

     

    Through the medium of digital printmaking, Sophia Szilagyi is showing a body of new work, including the unique split images where the horizon line is disjointed, and vertical lines separate the image. These contemplative panels are at some level a landscape that is both connected and fragmented.

     

    These depictions of landscapes that do not exist, open themselves to the viewer’s narrative. In Eternal Shift there is no sense of time; the compositions float between the past, present and future.

     

    To quote, philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin - 

    ‘The work of memory collapses time.’

     

    * New Romantics: Darkness and Light in Australian Art. First Published in 2011 ‘charts the dynasties’ of 36 Australian artists including, Sophia Szilagyi, Greg Wood, Bill Henson, Petrina Hicks, Dale Frank and Louise Hearman.

  • GREG WOOD

  • SOPHIA SZILAGYI

  • IN CONVERSATION WITH 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.

  • IN CONVERSATION WITH SOPHIA SZILAGYI

  • Your art offers us a portal to imaginary lands, and during a time when we’re unable to travel, it offers us the sanctuary that travel once did. Tell us about the real or imagined places that most influence your work?

    My work evolves from a combination of my memories and not from a photograph of a real place. Wilsons Prom in Victoria is where I have been fortunate to holiday over the years. It’s a favourite place for me, I’m drawn to its variety of ocean, land and sky. During this time of lockdown, I am going into the garden every day to photograph the sky… Is this a real or imagined place? I spent a while living in Scandinavia and the landscape there is very ordered, neat and has a particular green which Australia doesn’t have. My work draws on these memories, so my work is quintessentially Australian with classic undertones of a European landscape.

  • Your art practice has developed from a background in print making, yet some may think you’re a photographer. Tell us about your methodology?

    I am definitely not a photographer, but I use photography as a means of recording a place. Beyond this, I layer my work with light, colour, drawings and fragments of other images to create more of a two-dimensional experience of an abstract memory of a place. There seems to be a universal experience of nature, not entirely, but elements of it are universal – we are often in awe of nature and I work on developing its sublime beauty and ethereal power. Nature holds deep mystery, along with peace and stillness, which is what I love about it. You notice a different sense of self when you’re surrounded by nature. Although we don’t quite understand it, during this pandemic period, nature is one of the best grounding tools we can draw energy from – nature is the answer! My work is about recreating these elements of the landscape to make it look more the way it can feel.

  • Since your solo exhibition with Otomys Contemporary at this time last year the world has shifted significantly. How has your approach to Eternal Shift, been different – what’s the theme you’ve taken into this exhibition?

    OK … so many, so many things I have explored. The overall title Eternal Shift has led to a more specific study of the space or the duality between movement and stillness, interesting given what we have just been talking about. For this exhibition I have been in lockdown so not able to go out and take photographs or spend time surrounded by nature, so I have gone back to previous imagery, to my past, to my memory of a trip I did to Tasmania three years ago. These works are very different in that they focus on a typical Australian landscape, whereas in the past it’s been a more generalised, idealised landscape. My work for Eternal Shift is very definitely Australian – its where I am ‘stuck’ at the moment and it’s a very a good place to be ‘stuck’ I must say! The work for Eternal Shift has less depth than previous works, usually there is a very clear sense of perspective in my work, whereas with the many layers I have used here it has lost perspective and become more of an abstract landscape.

  • Isolation could be challenging for an artist who draws inspiration from nature. What influences, outside of nature, have inspired your work for Eternal Shift?

    For this exhibition music has had a larger influence on my work, as I have been in this one space. In fact it has had such a strong influence that when I stand back and look at the work I almost see it as written music – it’s got the peaks and valleys of the Tasmanian landscape like the rise and fall of musical notes. Music has infiltrated these landscapes. I’ve mainly been listening to classical or neo classical music. I find the absence of lyrics means there’s a more direct connection to the movement and or stillness of the music. Phillip Glass is a favourite and has influenced my practice for many years. His work is hypnotic, grounding and very moving. Weirdly enough I’ve been loving his solo piano piece called Mad Rush, which is odd given the times. I also love the all-time classic – Lakmé, an operatic duet between two women, particularly with the duality of two voices which are opposite but work together and combine a beautiful ‘sounds landscape’.

  • We are living in fascinating times, how have you managed the journey so far?

    As an artist we are quite lucky in that we have a place to invest our thoughts and feelings and ideas – so in that sense it has really been fantastic to just throw myself into my work. I am also naturally a slightly fearful person I suppose and so yes, they are distressing times particularly in other parts of the world, but I keep coming back to myself and focus on keeping that strong, so I can be a benefit to those around me. Fortunately, I am also a romantic person and very hopeful, so I do believe everything is where it should be and that it will work out. We’ve got to be patient with this – its teaching us patience.

  • One simple last question, what supportive music, reading or podcast can you share with people at the moment?

    Listen to Lakmé definitely – it will bring joy to people. I also listen to a fantastic meditation app which I think is amazing – 10% Happier – I’ll send you the link now, I think everyone should invest in this informative app. They’re my two tips to help one get through COVID!

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