Tasmania, Australia born 1963
the loss of the sun 2009 Place made: Longford, Tasmania, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil and beeswax on canvas Support: linen canvas
Philip Wolfhagen is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most significant contemporary landscape painters. He won the prestigious Wynne Prize in 2007 and is part of a new generation of painters who are presenting fresh visions of the Australian landscape and rethinking the traditions of this age-old genre. His works, inspired by the atmospheric landscape of northern Tasmania, explore the representation of time and natural phenomena.
Autumn equinox; the loss of the sun 2009 is an outstanding and powerful work from his latest series. It highlights Wolfhagen’s skill and sensitivity in rendering the subtleties and emotive qualities of light, mood and texture. During a fleeting moment of mid-autumn twilight, Wolfhagen has captured the view over a darkened domestic garden and beyond into a farmed landscape. The large trees in the foreground are silhouetted against the cloudless sky—a velvety, glowing surface of cool blue and the fading remnants of a golden sunset. Wolfhagen’s characteristic combination of oil paint and beeswax creates a luscious surface and adds a physical quality to the work. The spindly branches of the largest tree are scored into this surface, to reveal a charcoal-coloured, darker under-layer. There is a sense of both melancholy and romance in the title and tonality of this landscape; a scene infinitely suspended between night and day, during the short passage of time when both are roughly equal in length, and on the verge of the colder darker months of winter.
Wolfhagen draws inspiration from the regions surrounding his home in northern Tasmania, many of which he has known since childhood. For example, the domestic garden in the foreground of Autumn equinox; the loss of the sun is the artist’s own and the trees all planted by his hand. However, rather than painting en plein air, Wolfhagen works primarily in the studio from photographs and from what he identifies as an ‘imagined or partly remembered space’. He begins to paint after contemplating and absorbing his observations and emotional responses to a certain landscape. In this regard, his works simultaneously embody and transcend a specific place.
Across the darkened paddock depicted in Autumn equinox; the loss of the sun, our eyes are drawn to the glimmer of a fire and wisps of smoke—a suggestion of distant human activity. In his 2005 monograph on the artist, Peter Timms states that Wolfhagen is one of few contemporary Australian painters to explore ideas of the picturesque within the cultivated landscape, despite there being little romance left in rural toil. Wolfhagen’s atmospheric explorations of this subject are underpinned by a love of both the wild and changed landscape and, most significantly, a strong sense of our responsibilities towards the natural world.
This work is on a scale just large enough to envelope our vision and provokes an immediate reaction from the senses. We are momentarily transported from the gallery by the illusion of realism. Yet, the sense of profound mystery this work also possesses gives us the impression that Wolfhagen is seeking to draw us further beyond the realm of the physical world. On close inspection, the initial illusion is dissolved and abstracted by the exquisite painterly quality of Wolfhagen’s mark making.
Autumn equinox; the loss of the sun is an important new work by this prominent Australian painter. It is a superb addition to the National Gallery of Australia’s collection of recent landscape painting and to our representation of contemporary Tasmanian artists.
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010