Painter John Waller digs deep into the most inhospitable of Antipodean landscapes to capture the terror and beauty of nature.
Above: Transformant 2 Space Time and Memory Series 2018 Oil, acrylic & graphite 80 x 70 cms
From the flat, dry plains of the Mallee, the drought-ridden expanses of his childhood between the Murray River and South-Western New South Wales and the semi-arid desert of Central Australia, he unearths rich seams of luscious and evocative color and excavates the vastness of its spatial qualities.
Mallee Series 2009 oil, acrylic and graphite on linen. 110 x 122cm
From the outset Waller has worked in the language of abstraction - counterpointed blocks of color, sweeping earthy glazes, a minimalist layering and stripping back process, occasionally mixing media and materials with seamless virtuosity.
Time Space and Memory Series 2018 Landscape, memory and spatial transformation. 2017 Oil acrylic and graphite on linen.122 x 152
Waller grew up in Mildura in north-western Victoria, an unlikely and far-flung site for the uprising of Australian sculpture. The Mildara Sculpture Prize that evolved into the Mildura Sculpture Triennial (1961-1978) kick-started the recognition and staging of Australia's contemporary sculptors fresh from the post-war Modernism of the UK and Europe.
It was a powerful and sophisticated introduction to abstraction and minimalism for the young John Waller of the 1960s.
Memory and Space Series 2018 Oil, acrylic and graphite on linen. 122 x 152cm
He set off to study sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) where he acquired formal drawing and modelling skills that to this day give his paintings depth despite the horizontal and rhythmic flatness of his compositions.
In his Mallee paintings he composes in blocks of rust and desert ochres, thick strokes of 'salt-pan white' and splashes of turquoise sky blue.
Mallee Series 2009 Oil, acrylic and graphite on linen. 122 x 152cm
More recent canvasses exhibited in his Trancendence series (2016) and later in his Space Time and Memory Series (2018) sing with vibrant color and a clarity that transcends his earlier palette.
Art historian Dr Christopher Heathcote has likened these works to "hearing a passage of music performed by a virtuoso soloist...One can savour it on an immediate sensual level, letting the glistening notes, the tonal shifts, the carefully spiced rhythmic textures, lift and carry along your imagination."
Transcendence Series 2016 The architect considers. Watercolour, gouache, acrylic, oil, graphite on paper,105 x 75cm
Heathcote also acknowledges his authoritative technical prowess with - "paint surfaces ... so light, crisp and tastily executed...painterly notes of tone, texture and color.... intricately orchestrated."
Space Time and Memory Series 2018
Waller's focus has always been on the great Australian landscape tradition. An impassioned art teacher, he commenced that career as an Education Officer at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) where he had an 'up-close' connection with the works of Sidney Nolan, Fred Williams and Arthur Streeton.
It is as though he has been in a life-long conversation with Australia's greatest landscape artists responding last year with his homage to Streeton's 'Purple Moon's Transparent Might' (NGV collection).
Amaranthine Study. Size: 10.2( h) x 92 (w) cm Medium: Oil on linen
Waller's response to Shelley's ode to nature goes beyond the sunburnt golds, lavenders and blues of Streeton's palette to a 'pink, violet, and brown haze' direct from the sand and dust storms of his beloved desert scapes.
Transcendence Series 2016 Standing alone in front of infinity Watercolour, gouache, acrylic, oil, graphite on paper,105 x 75cm
In the late 1970s Waller took the first of many excursions to the semi-arid landscapes and the aboriginal people of Lajamanu in Central Australia. He was struck by the structural rhythm of their paintings and the ancestral designs that connected them to their land and dream-time. He was excited about what preeminent indigenous art curator Judith Ryan describes as their "bold aesthetic."
It was a critical encounter that inspired Waller, not to mimic the unique art emerging from these ancient tribal painters, but to dig deeper into his own culture and place.
Landscape Series Narrativ. King Island 2 2014 Oil, Acrylic and graphite on linen. 122 x 158cm
He had his eye on the explosion of color emerging from leading landscape artists of the UK such as Peter Lanyon and David Hockney who's Californian film "A Bigger Splash" had found its way to Melbourne in 1974, albeit in the darkness the city's 'raincoat" cinemas.
Landscape Series Narrative 3 King Island 2014 Oil, Acrylic and graphite on linen. 122 x 152cm
Californian Richard Diebenkorn's lyrical abstractions that integrated a figurative element into his landscapes also had a lasting impact on Waller's work. It can be detected in the amorphous and haunting forms drawn beneath the thin glazes that float beneath the surface, adding a light but deft narrative to his compositions.
Untitled Oil on Linen 2016 104.2(h) x 92(w) cm Oil on linen
Landscape Narrative Series 2014 Size: 91(h) x 71(w) cm Medium: oil, acrylic & graphite on linen
Pastoral 111 2018
Waller is the consummate Modernist. He has never succumbed to cyclical commercial trends but, both intellectually and creatively, he has mastered the unsentimental language of abstraction and the cadence of color.
His discipline, like that of a musical composer, has resulted in the unquestionable enduring quality of his work.
Art collectors and critics alike have acknowledged his prodigious talent.
JOMO JAN 2019
John's Waller's Website: https://johnwallerartist.com.au