After almost a quarter of a century as an artist devoted to painting the landscape, Chris Langlois is about to enjoy the biggest audience of his career. ‘Points in Time’ – a survey of Langlois’ work over the past decade curated by Katherine Roberts and Simon Gregg – opens at Manly Art Gallery & Museum (Manly AGM) on Sept 6 before touring to five other galleries in three different states over the next 14 months.
More than 30 paintings, many of them large canvases, feature in the show which is a joint initiative of Manly AGM and the Gippsland Art Gallery. And that presented the artist and curators with a logistical problem.
“My paintings are more travelled than I am,” Langlois jokes during our meeting in his Avalon studio on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Much of his work since his survey of 2002 in Brisbane and Newcastle now belongs to private collections in the U.S., Europe and Hong Kong. Convincing owners to part with their canvases for over a year was quite a task. “Most of the collectors we’re borrowing from have something else to hang on their walls,” says Langlois. “A couple of others accepted my offer to give them (temporary) replacements.”
Having a chance to reflect on ten years of art practice, Langlois says, “was a cathartic experience… it’s like a story with a beginning and an end, and diversions in between.”
Though he made his initial reputation as a painter of large but exquisite seascapes, Langlois points out: “I’ve hardly done any seascapes in the past ten years, though the work I’m doing now is all seascapes.”
The sky, clouds, dead trees after a Snowy Mountains bushfire, even tiny refractions of landscape revealed in the rain drops forming on a car window during a thunderstorm – they’ve all inspired different themes in Langlois’s work since 2002.
During that time, his painting has oscillated from pure abstraction to relatively literal landscapes. Yet certain qualities have remained consistent: subtle use of light and space, meticulous command of paint, and a desire to work within a limited, but ever-changing, palette of tones and colours that has been his trademark since he discovered Whistler as a young man.
“I fall in love with relationships between colours,” Langlois says. “Each period has seen combinations I’ve really enjoyed – warm violets with greens, browns and blues, yellow and cool greys.”
Roberts praises Langlois’ ability to marry some of the landscape’s contradictory impulses. “They seem impersonal but they promote a powerful emotional response. You feel like you are at Bangalley Head, looking out to sea, or at Narrabeen Lakes gazing over the water.”
Gregg, who featured Langlois in his 2011 book, New Romantics: Darkness and Light in Australian Art, uses words like ‘romantic’, ‘longing’ and ‘melancholy’ to describe the artist’s signature style and aesthetic but says his “true subject might be the infinite. He has fashioned a career out of creating tantalising subjects that he suspends permanently beyond our grasp.”
Certainly Langlois’ predominate motif is the ultimately unattainable horizon. “To me, the horizon is always in your imagination, something that seems real but is not real,” he says. “I love that tension you can create where two worlds – the water world and the air world – meet.”
Manly Art Gallery & Museum
6 September to 4 November, 2013
Gippsland Art Gallery
18 January to 10 March, 2014
Waterfield, no.2, 2012, oil on linen, 183 x 198cm
Darkwood, no.19, 2011, oil on linen, 137 x 153cm
Courtesy the artist, Gippsland Art Gallery and Gold Coast City Art Gallery