41. TIM STORRIER
Tim Storrier’s art has come to be amongst the most sought after of the past three decades in Australia – it is also amongst the most beautiful. Despite being an ‘outsider’, a realist painter making a living as an artist during the height of postmodernism, Storrier’s art has flourished. In fact, it is his unique position outside of the modernist dictum which has allowed him to chart his own course in contemporary Australian art. Despite the popularity of post-modern genres with both critics and collectors, it is the sheer beauty in Storrier’s vast canvases which have firmly placed Storrier within the ranks of the most collectible artists working today.
Raised on a property in central New South Wales, the landscape of Storrier’s childhood surroundings is deeply ingrained in the artist’s psyche and forms the foundation of his art. The experience and memories of his childhood living on the family property “Umagalee” were defining years for Storrier, during this time his artistic interests were awakened and encouraged by his family. Much of the artist’s work is still rooted in his memories of the landscape which surrounded him as a child and many years on, still provide insight for his work - ‘nearly all of what I do relates to those years’.1
Although his style has changed over the years, Storrier is an artist who is primarily concerned with painting the landscape however not in the traditional sense. The artist uses landscape in his works as a stage on which to present scenes of human nature: drama, disaster, travel and dreams. Few artists of the late 20th century have explored the landscape in such detail as Storrier – the genre was so thoroughly dominated in the early 20th century by artists such as Arthur Streeton (1867-1943), Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Arthur Boyd (1920-1999) and Sidney Nolan (1917-1992) that more recently, artists have chosen to avoid the subject. Storrier has chosen to tap into the historic tradition of landscape painting in a contemporary context – he brings to it his own characteristic visual language which has become the oeuvre responsible for his immense critical and commercial success both in Australia and internationally.
Storrier’s pictures bear the distinguishing marks of the landscape tradition in Australian art and, paradoxically, it was the artist’s travels overseas which piqued his interest in the landscape of his native country. Through his exposure to contemporary American painting, Storrier’s work first began to demonstrate an aesthetic link with traditional representations of the white Australian experience of the land. Later in his career, the artist would project onto foreign expanses of open space his own distinctly Australian sense of place. Here, Storrier describes finding a sense of identity through travel: ‘I’ve found that travelling teaches you what is important about yourself – what it is that differentiates you from everyone else.’2 Immersion in a foreign place and culture forced Storrier to reflect on what it meant to be an ‘Australian’ painter – to have a vision and reflect a unique experience. Upon his return from overseas, he declared a determination ‘to relate all my pictures to an Australian sense of time and place’.3
The present work, Serendipity, is a departure from the landscapes which Storrier is most well-known for: his burning objects beneath a sky littered with stars or clouds. Here, Storrier presents a unique perspective of the landscape albeit with all the scale and beauty which is expected in his work. Serendipity depicts an unmistakably Australian panorama of the parched interior; dried creeks and river beds can be seen from above, with clouds casting shadows from the moonlight. Storrier first used the floating perspective in the 1970s, he would paint structures from above creating a sense of ‘looking down’ into the composition. The artist’s work Retreat, painted in 1972, demonstrates the technique – Storrier’s viewpoint is taken from above the brick structure which is depicted in the composition, the same ‘floating’ perspective he employs in the present work. Storrier has revisited this technique here with great success, his use of a diagonal horizon emphasises the floating effect and creates an atmosphere of dreamy euphoria tinged with tension.
‘Storrier has always been concerned with the enduring challenge of painting as a practice: with the tension between the representational and decorative function of art, with the compositional relationship between harmony and inventive discord…’4 The power within Storrier’s compositions stems from the tension which he creates by setting up dichotomies within his works. His beautifully painted works are full of imagery which is familiar yet there is almost always a fundamental incongruity within the painting: a tension between the real and the unreal. Here, Storrier carefully creates a slight sense of unease through the offset horizon as a backdrop to the otherwise spectacular evening sky. The artist adds further tension with his placement of a garland of roses which floats in the foreground juxtaposed against a burning piece of paper.
Some of Storrier’s most accomplished works feature flowers as a main compositional element - Storrier began painting flowers in response to criticism accusing him of employing ‘charm school’ techniques in his work. The artist admits that flowers are not easy to master in oil paint however he confronted those critics by demonstrating his command of the subject in a series of works painted in the mid-1990s. Storrier further explored the theme of flowers in his series of works from the early 2000s which featured floral wreaths floating on bleak, stormy seas, arguably some of the artist’s most dramatic compositions to date. In the present work, the garland, the burning paper and the diagonal horizon combine to create a unique friction within this composition.
Storrier’s choice of title adds to the mood of the painting, the word serendipity being known to most as a happy accident or a pleasant surprise. The word serendipity was coined by art historian Horace Walpole (1717-1797) when he explained an unexpected discovery he had made by reference to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. In this story, the princes were always making discoveries by accident and without intending to, hence the notion of serendipity. Perhaps Storrier is suggesting here a serendipitous presence is at play within the work, or has been. How is it that we are floating, or falling, through the clouds in an evening sky strewn with brilliant stars? How did we get here? Where are we going?
Serendipity reinforces Storrier’s position as a highly accomplished painter of landscapes, not simply a landscape painter but an artist who uses nature as a stage on which to present scenes of human nature. His characteristically vast and beautifully composed canvasses are a pleasure to behold however on deeper level, they are also ‘explorations of the relationship between beauty and decay, design and decomposition, artistic control and creative flux…it is the tension between these elements in his work which marks him out as one of Australia’s most popular yet simultaneously elusive modern artists.’5
1. Storrier quoted in Lumby, C., Tim Storrier: The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p.18
2. Van Nunen, L., Point to Point: The Art of Tim Storrier, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1987, p.24
3. Storrier quoted in McGrath, S., & Olsen J., The Artist and the Desert, Bay Books, Sydney, 1981, p.172
4. Lumby, C., Tim Storrier: The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p.141
5. ibid, p.11
Caroline Jones BA, MArtAdmin