In her photo-real landscapes, Halinka Orszulok invokes the haunting wistfulness of night-time environments that often appear welcoming or banal during the day. Her fascination with the dissonance of artificial light in nature, the uncomfortable line between public and domestic spaces as well as the psychological responses darkness brings culminates in deeply reflective yet unsettling works.
Beginning with her own photography, Orszulok painstakingly recreates the arresting, lonely scenes in oil on canvas, imbuing them with the dual temporality of a single-instant snapshot, and the contemplative long-term process of painting. It’s this aspect that gives her work such a charismatic aura, in which the act of observing otherwise-unremarkable space can instead generate an introspective moment.
‘It has an aliveness to it,’ says Orszulok, ‘where the work hovers between those dualities of time, and that gives it a life that’s different to just a photograph or a painting – it’s both layered over each other.’ This duality of form adroitly mirrors the duality of Orszulok’s suburban subjects. ‘You might take something like a house or a park, that in daylight is entirely different to the night, and it becomes transformed into a mysterious world. I love to play with that and explore the connection to the subconscious.’
Since winning the 2018 Glover Prize with Ponies (2018) – a sinister yet playful depiction of a Tasmanian playground shrouded in darkness – earlier this year, Orszulok has been hard at work in her Southern Highlands studio. Her solo show at Flinders Street Gallery comprises all new works that, while not painted from a single location, present a united narrative of the nostalgia or disquiet that often comes with travelling through peripheral spaces.
The artist shared, ‘There’s that sense of being on the edge of town, of travelling through the outskirts of somewhere. Maybe there’s the idea of moving through that landscape and noticing how you pass through the world. It’s these thoughts that I have to myself while I’m making work, so I do like to feel that there is a connection between the works… Travelling is unsettling because you take away what’s familiar, but there’s also something nice in the sense of wistful longing and the way you experience space that makes you look inside, or become more in touch with yourself.’
Fittingly, a sabbatical year spent travelling while studying at Sydney College of the Arts is how Orszulok first developed her practice. ‘I took a camera as a form of notetaking while travelling,’ she explains ‘and it really made sense to me. There’s always that element of looking out the window while travelling. I was in England at the time, where it gets dark at three in the afternoon, so there’s a lot of looking out at night-time landscapes. There was something about that English landscape in particular; they’re very good at defining space, especially the separation between public and private spaces. There is a deep sense of layering of the human over the landscape. I remember looking at windows in housing estates and the net curtains and I was fascinated with how light inside accentuated the darkness outside.’
This intense interest in the divide between human environments and nature has sustained itself for over a decade of practice, with Orszulok continuing to explore this psychological threshold between tame and wild spaces. Now focusing on spaces discovered in Tasmania, the Hunter Valley and the New South Wales South Coast, Orszulok uses this spatial tension to represent the urban Australian landscape, creating works that feel at once of-the-moment and strangely timeless. With the troubling solitude of darkness so evident in her meticulous work, the landscapes bear a striking level of restraint that belies their deeply expressive undertones.
‘I’m really trying to share a point of view,’ confirms Orszulok. ‘And I think there’s an understanding that it’s from a human perspective. With so many categories for the spaces we inhabit, I try to unpick the things we maybe take for granted and understand why we experience certain places in certain ways.’
Hannah Robson Jenkins is an arts writer based in Sydney.
Flinders Street Gallery
4 October to 8 December, 2018