Menzies Art Brands



Tim Maguires signature flower paintings are no more about flowers than those of such earlier painters of the motif as Georgia OKeeffe and Andy Warhol. It is a means to an end, as Maguires own remark makes clear: If the flower paintings mean anything, its to do with the way they are made.1 Both the motif and the making process were developed during the late 1980s from Maguires series of landscape and abstract representations, together with his experience of working with the technical printing process of lithographic colour wash separation which led him to using pure glazes in his paintings, rather than opaque colour.2

Maguires still-life flower paintings began in 1989 with his return to Australia and the birth of his son, after he had spent most of the later 1980s travelling and exhibiting in Europe and the United States. Birth, of course, reminds of its opposite, and an awareness of the fragility of life came early to Maguire, after a train accident that changed the presumed course of his life.3 The historical flower and still-life genre paintings of the seventeenth-century Dutch Golden Age promoted the mutability of existence through loaded imagery that served a larger symbolic and allegorical purpose. Such symbols of transience as flowers and fruit reminded the original Protestant viewers in the then good times of Dutch affluence of how the clock ticks, beauty fades and decay lurks. The genres precise ordering of motifs and their careful spillage also provides a persuasive pictorial tension between order and disorder, the natural and the artificial, through an experience of abundant visuality. And it was this voluptuous visual presence of the historical flower pieces which drew in Maguire, who kept distant from their original symbolic meaning through his concentration on the painting process and its materiality.4

By the time Maguire was back in Australia in 1989, he had come to realise that a paintings formal qualities had to elucidate the meaning of the work, but also be analogous to it, and this became the content of his practice.5 For a short period he maintained contact with the Vanitas theme of the historical still-life genre by alluding to its favoured references in exhibition and painting titles, for instance Et in Arcadia Ego and Ex Niholo, Viva Breve (exhibitions of 1987 and 1990), Vita Fugax 1991 and Lapsus Memoriae 1989.

But by 1992, the flower paintings had become untitled and numbered, reducing any possible interpretation of personality in his paintings, which the historical still-lifes have in abundance. Nonetheless, Maguires early 1990s flower paintings have been described as portraits of flowers and this painting of 1993 fits the description.6 This auspicious year Maguire won the Mot & Chandon Fellowship, which allowed him, with his family, to work that year in Champagne region of France. Bathed in a tawny, uncanny light, overblown blossoms spill out of the picture plane and dissolve into the viewers space, insistently florid and improbably fecund. Critical commentary on Maguires paintings of this and previous periods, such as Tank 1986, Lux in Tenebris 1990 and Canal 1988-1992, includes some evocative reflections on a light which is equally dark, remarking on the way this light disrupts space and focus, the pull it exerts on us, wanting us to be immersed in its phantasmic mutability.7

Maguires expertise with pictorial light-effects is well-grounded in his attraction to the paintings of nineteenth-century American landscape artist John Kensett and the post-war minimalist Zip paintings of Barnett Newman. Here, in this painting, the pictorial light is a muted glowing presence, dissolving the floral blooms into the paintings surface, unifying rather than dividing the pictorial space, and locating a pulsing sensuality within the conceptual painting process.

1. Tim Maguire, quoted in What is it as it really is?, in Maguire T., Godfrey, T. & Watkins, J., Tim Maguire, Piper Press, Sydney, 2007, p.100
2. Maguire, T., Godfrey, T. & Watkins, J., op. cit., p.117
3. Ibid., pp.7475
4. Ibid., p.50: Painting the materiality and the dematerializing of things was my way of underlining the tension between flatness and pictorial space.
5. Ibid., p.45
6. Searle, A., Tim Maguire, Mot & Chandon, Epernay, 1994, p.3: A close-up portrait of a bloom, far larger than life and bursting beyond the confines of the paintings edge.
7. Colless, E., The Error of My Ways, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 1995, pp.170, 172; reprint of Tim Maguire: Paintings and Works on Paper 1989-1990, Deutscher Brunswick Street, Melbourne, 1990. See also Lindsay, E., 'Second Distance of a Blue Flower, Art & Australia, Spring 1994, vol.32, no.1, pp.8491, and Lindsay, E., The Lure, in Searle, A., op. cit., pp. 7-13

Jenepher Duncan
Jenepher Duncan is an independent art consultant. She was previously Curator of Contemporary Australian Art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth and Director of the Monash University Museum of Art and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.

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