Tim Maguire is represented by Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
*The reserve price for this work shall not exceed AU$70,000
30. TIM MAGUIRE
Untitled 20070401 2007, shows Tim Maguire’s mastery of the expressive potential of painting, his explorations into the luxuriant quality of fruit and flowers and his demonstrated talent for breathing new life into traditional subject matter. The relationship between art and nature underpins what has been a long and extremely successful career for Maguire both in Australia and overseas. His pictures of flowers, berries and blooms remind us of nature’s beautiful but ultimately transient bounty and provide a refreshing reinvigoration of contemporary art with a range of new processes and interesting techniques.
There are a number of famous stories in classical literature that define the essence of the still life genre and that account for the subsequent trajectory of Western painting. At the heart of these legends is the idea that a socially progressive art was best conceived through exact imitation of nature and that verisimilitude revealed the skills and ingenuity of the artist. In Maguire’s case, like many other artists, imitation and the essentially photographic quality of his art is never done solely for its own sake. The development of his formal vocabulary contributes to a more expansive and painterly approach that, in art historian Sarah Miller’s words, ‘draws the viewer to inspect the surface, whilst the scale and illusionistic presence of the image pushes the viewer back to take in the whole’.1
Although many people are familiar with pictures of grapes and berries as part of an ensemble made up of many parts, Maguire audaciously focuses on a single fruit and then blows it up to a cinematic scale. In this way the magnificence of nature is represented by the simplicity of an isolated fragment comprising a luscious surface and subtle evidence of the application of layers of very thinly stained paint.
Tim Maguire refers to art as a spirited negotiation between the real and imagined, order and chaos, and art and artifice. His realistic landscape paintings from the 1980s developed from depictions of corrugated water tanks into abstract slit paintings that became more and more about the formal qualities of light, paint and colour. Similarly Maguire’s forays into the still life genre set the scene for his mature work by drawing attention to the process of painting and its ultimate separation from naturalism as the focus of still life.
The development of Maguire’s conceptual approach and his focus on nature and art can be traced to a formative period he spent working and travelling overseas. He received an Australia Council Scholarship in 1985 and studied in the painting and photography departments at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Gerhard Richter (born 1932) and Dutch photographer Jan Dibbets (born 1941).
Gerard Richter is highly regarded in art circles for challenging the belief in the infallibility of the painted image. In his art the painted surface is rubbed and stripped back to reveal a succession of veins and layers. Like Maguire, he often uses existing imagery that could be projected onto the canvas using photographic means. Dibbets, on the other hand, reaffirmed Maguire’s faith in painting even though he was a conceptual artist who worked primarily in photography. As Ken Wach noted about a major Maguire painting offered by Menzies in 2015: ‘Dibbets’s photographs, often in series and multiples, present very carefully selected images of overlooked and simple subject matter – flowers, earth, windows, sea and sky – in ways that throw new light upon the perspective, form and attributes of commonplace subject matter.’2 The considerable impact that Richter and Dibbets had on Maguire was expanded by his admiration for the luminist paintings of the American Hudson River painter John Kensett (1816-72).
Maguire’s work back in Australia in the 1980s and 90s was marked by a period in which he incorporated these and other influences into the perfection of his own work. Soon Ripe, Soon Rotten 1991, is a characteristic work from this period in which Maguire appropriated imagery drawn from the 17th and 18th century tradition of Dutch still life painting. One of the purposes of Dutch still life painting was to remind people of the transitory nature of their existence and the fleeting nature of earthly pleasures. These richly detailed and incredibly life-like portrayals appealed to Maguire as he experimented with applying his dainty brushstrokes with meticulous care.
As the work progressed Maguire became more and more interested in trying to revivify the still life genre by activating the surfaces of his painting. He has spoken of the ‘fizzing’ and breaking down of solid forms into transparent layers and colour fields. In works from the early 2000s the paint quite literally runs off the page. Maguire was trying to draw attention to it being an art object even though the appearance looks real.
Untitled 20070401 represents the maturation of these explorations of painterly ideas and effects. The painting was chosen by Galerie Andreas Binder to represent Maguire at the prestigious German art fair, Art Cologne, in 2008. In it Maguire compresses the bunch of grapes so that they seem to burst out of the frame. Mineral turpentine is rubbed into the painting when it is half-dry to create the pock-marked and porous quality of the skin and additional flecks of solvent are left on the painting for longer periods in order to eat into the paint. The almost photographic quality of the work and the strong luminous and sensuous handling of light stems directly from the painting process which involves laying down progressive layers of three colours: yellow, cyan (blue-green) and magenta (purple-red).
For Tim Maguire, art is a process that demands equal time and respect. He animates an inert subject so that it breathes and comes alive. However art also exists as a form of tension between figuration and abstraction and this sentiment underpins his conviction that artifice and reality are a perfect metaphor for life.3
1. Miller, S., Tim Maguire, Melbourne, 2002, unpag.
2. Wach, K., ‘Tim Maguire’, Menzies Australian and International Fine Art and Sculpture, Sydney, 2015, p.103
3. Maguire, T., interviewed by Annika Jayne, https://vimeo.com/99292042, 2014
Rodney James BA (Hons.); MA