As a fellow painter its often hard to dispense critical evaluation and an even appraisal of a colleague’s work. When it comes to Amanda Penrose Hart’s painting her work needs no validation from me. Over the years I have quietly admired her gutsy approach and commitment to painting. What is apparent with Penrose Hart is a willingness to explore her medium and a genuine love of paint. Her style illuminates the pleasures of painting and what the inert material itself is capable of. In this recent survey of her work at Manly Art Gallery, Penrose Hart evocatively tackles the area where she resides in Sydney’s Northern Beaches and reveals a deep affinity for her craft. This locale has forced her to step forward from the flat country fields and low rollicking hills of Sofala where she regularly visits at her country studio and the resulting paintings are a playful mix of local insight and energy.
In these works there is a confident and heightened awareness of pictorial space. In Near the Lower Casemate the artist doesn’t see the need to fill the canvas with a picturesque display of coastline cliff and horizon but successfully crops the image into a dynamic portrayal of active painting that looks simple but becomes more potent with each viewing. In her larger sea pictures and beachfront vignettes we see growing forms and masses develop from the tangles of thick pain – a rogue heavy cloud punctuated by protruding shoreline, a rogue boat or even a runaway shark! Penrose Hart’s understanding of compositional devices allows them to combine effectively with the atmospheric landscape and produce more than a decorative image but something more evocative and full of spirit.
Ask her about the word ‘plein air’ and she’ll shut you down quickly. Even though working from the landscape is important to her practice, her bigger works are more about recall and the experience of being ‘in’ her chosen environments, memory is just as important as the looking – bringing back this acquired knowledge of the landscape allows for a natural and unencumbered delivery of paint back in the studio – her works are more about the experience of what it ‘was like’ in the field.
In the large Manly Dam there is a foreboding sense of moody low tone colour that intertwines across the horizontal canvas. The heavy dark foreground balances with the light airy sky and what initially seems simple keeps one engaged with the work allowing absorption into the heavy and cleverly applied the paint. In a lot of her works there is a visceral mesh of colour that gracefully dances across each of the horizontal canvasses and boards. At their best a peculiar special awkwardness can electrify these shorelines, dams and marshes of the Manly area.
Like her dry wit, there is a minimum of fuss in the handling of certain areas of each work. This allows for a visual breather such as the important light blue sky’s and white cloudy vistas that give focus to the small intricate details. It’s not easy to keep each work in a show interesting and intense yet Penrose Hart has the uncanny knack of keeping you involved – they are more than descriptive skill.
Penrose Hart doesn’t try to tame the land or impose a vision – she has no intention of dramatising the landscape. She is a painter well aware of the hard grind it takes to do a convincing work. Her no fuss approach bellies the actual final results of her paintings which show a joyful expressive view of her surrounding world.
Manly Art Gallery & Museum
24 April to 3 June, 2013
1) Near the Lower Casemate, 2013, oil on canvas, 51 x 38cm
2) Queenscliff, 2013, oil on canvas, 51 x 38cm
3) Manly Dam, 2013, oil on linen, 137 x 214cm
Courtesy the artist and King Street Gallery on William, Sydney