Alexander McKenzie’s intimate landscapes explore the terrain between the dreamlike and the familiar. While the landscapes depicted in his paintings are not the rendering of a specific place at a specific time, they are based upon the very real connections McKenzie feels with the natural world. Like many landscape painters, a good portion of McKenzie’s practice is spent in the landscape – looking, observing. Rather than sitting and drawing, as many would expect, he wanders through a place; “trying to soak it in, not the information or details or colours or description of it like a realist painter might do, but rather the feeling and awareness that being alone in the landscape gives me”, he explains.
Deeply personal, the paintings are less about the place, breaking away from the conventions of landscape painting, and more about the artist’s place in the world. The still, motionless lakes, manicured gardens, and haunted islands for which McKenzie is now well renowned, reflect the artists thoughtfulness and contemplation of his “own mortality, the fleeting nature of life and presence of something bigger”. It is this contemplation that gives rise to the narratives on which viewers are invited to explore in the paintings. In Zig Zag Bridge (2012), paths dissect the overall composition of the picture and travel through the landscape, often forking in different directions or into a void, presenting the viewer a choice – reflective of the choices “all of us must make in our lives”, McKenzie explains.
The painting’s combine grand, romantic settings – aesthetically reminiscent of 15th century Dutch Masters – with contemporary motifs of power lines and street lights – as in Looking for the Greenhouse (2012) – reflecting the human journey that transpires time and place. Subject matter, such as lush bushes placed alongside leafless trees, is used as a means of “describing different aspects of the narrative” that are implied and welcomed within McKenzie’s paintings. The contrasting elements within his paintings present questions or and options for the viewers eye to more through and around the journey. McKenzie invites the viewers to explore each option within the painting, allowing every individual the opportunity to walk away with their own personal experience and interpretation of the narrative.
There is an element of mystery that pervades the paintings in his latest exhibition, ‘Arboretum’, at Sydney’s Martin Browne Contemporary. This mystery reflects life, and its various iterations, but also McKenzie’s experience of painting itself: “for me the mystery of painting is forever a mystery but I endeavor to make work as honest to myself as I can”. The striking beauty and stillness of the paintings lure the viewers into the picture plane, allowing the narrative to build at every turn.
Martin Browne Contemporary
May 3 to May 27
Alexander MacKenzie, Zig Zag Bridge, 2012, oil on linen, 102 x 153cm
Alexander MacKenzie, Looking for the Greenhouse, 2012, oil on linen, 137 x 197cm