signed and inscribed verso: 'OVER THE NIGHT ROAD' (FLAME AND LINE)/ Storrier
Private collection, New South Wales
In Over the Night Road (Flame & Line) Tim Storrier creates a celestial tour de force, uniting essential elements that drive some of his most well known and sought after paintings. Mastering the art of conjuring beauty while avoiding facile decoration, Storrier is noted for his unwillingness to enter into a philosophical discussion about the content of his work, and openly eschews engaging in contemporary critical discourse. Rather, as put by Catharine Lumby, he is an artist who has “a deceptively simple objective: the desire to make beautiful paintings from subjects that matter to him. It’s a straightforward aim, but one that has presented the artist with as many challenges as those of his avant-gardist contemporaries.”1
The present work continues to exploit key subjects that clearly matter to this senior Australian artist and have informed his work for decades; namely the landscape, the night sky, fire, and the suggestion of broader and immaterial concepts, such as space, place, time and the infinite. In doing so, his work becomes anything but simple, allowing these boundless forces to exert their own impact upon the viewer’s psyche.
Storrier’s engagement with the Australian landscape is well documented, as is his use of it as a stage-like setting where he places various formal arrangements, or incendiary interventions. In a 1981 trip to outback Australia he tied a lacquered rope between two steel posts stuck in the ground, and set it alight.2 The dramatic image of a burning line suspended in a vast desert environment became pivotal in the development of his future iconography, and would go on to inspire a number of significant works.
Storrier’s continuing fascination with fire is probably the most well known feature of his art. During the 1980s he returned to outback Australia to set other things on fire including, amongst others; the steel structure of an outstretched arm and clenched fist, and the outline of a running man in full flight. These activities could be described as artworks in their own right in the sphere of performance or environmental art. However they were not intended as such, but rather as a means to generate visual information that would go on to inspire his primary practice, which has always been as a painter.3
Fire has the ability to contribute to an ambiance of unseen human presence. This is particularly true in the present work, which as the title indicates also includes a desert road that appears in the gravelly band of foreground that stretches across the width of the painting. Along this stretch of road burns the scattered remains of a fire, the painstakingly depicted grey exterior of charred logs contrasting to the hot red and orange glow beneath. When reading this image it is easy to speculate how this fire came to be. Who started it, do we witness the remnants of a camp or pit stop for someone traversing the countryside by car?
While fire is still present in Over the Night Road (Flame & Line) and other recent paintings, in comparison to his earlier blaze-line and burning log works it is notably smaller and lacks the ferocious intensity of his earlier scenes. Rather, the focus has shifted to the spectacular night sky and the vast desert terrain viewed from a high vantage point. The horizon is a critical formal device that structures the band-like composition of the painting, yet Storrier is also aware of the symbolic importance of horizons within his work, saying “the seduction of the landscape for me has to do with the essentially romantic idea of the endless horizon.”4
Storrier’s romantic sensibilities are visible not only in the dominance of the horizon within his compositions, but also more generally in his choice of the natural world for a subject and the sense of awed-reverence the artist imbues it with. The concept of endlessness or infinity is also powerfully implied by the night sky in Over the Night Road (Flame & Line). Dotted with countless stars and planets from realms beyond human understanding, this particular night sky features a brilliant comet or shooting star that’s long path traverses the majority of the picture plane. In this work the blazing fire line that hovered above the ground in earlier paintings has shifted to the sky, so bright that it illuminates the earth below. Thus while alluding to the infinite, Storrier also captures a brief shining moment, and distills a compelling sense temporal immediacy.
Many of Storrier’s images draw their power from the tension he frequently evokes between diametrically opposed elements that he skillfully weaves together into a seamless image. Fire resides next to water, the sky hovers over the earth, light pierces through the dark and so on. The present work is no exception. It calls to mind the Hermetic saying “as above, so below,” a phrase that alchemists of antiquity thought held the key to unlocking all forms of magic. It refers to the idea that the macrocosm is the same as the microcosm, the atom is the same as the solar system, the universe is the same as God, God is the same as man, and so on… ad infinitum.
Perhaps Storrier is conjuring his own form of artistic alchemy in works such as Over the Night Road (Flame & Line). The fire in the foreground is not so different from the burning celestial force that streaks through the night sky. The scattered vaporous clouds are reflected on the brown earth miles below. Thus while it is often noted that Storrier paints a lexicon of symbols and iconography that have strong personal significance to the artist, it is equally true that a kind of cosmic universality applies to paintings such as Over the Night Road (Flame & Line) – one that holds infinite appeal.
1. Lumby, C., Tim Storrier: The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000 p.13
2. Ibid p.45
3. Ibid p.102
4. Tim Storrier quoted in Sarks, E., Tim Storrier: A Survey, exh. cat., Orange Regional Gallery, New South Wales, 1993
Marguerite Brown MA (Art Cur.)
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