In the Urban Wildland Interface exhibition, Anthony Altman shows us the changes occurring in the landscape due to burgeoning urban development. Altman, an Aireys Inlet artist, is exhibiting his works at Geelong Gallery through the Shell Arts Geelong Region Artists Program. In a series of contemporary landscapes, he paints what he sees on the journey from Melbourne to Geelong and the Surf Coast. It is a trip he has travelled many times in the last 15 years.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is ‘View of Geelong After von Guérard 2010’ which is a contemporary re-working of Eugene von Guérard’s View of Geelong. Altman reinterprets the idyllic vista of 1856 from a 2010 perspective: the ring road sweeps across the foreground instead of the dirt track from the earlier work, a car with a caravan in tow replaces the bullock dray, modern housing estates encroach on the rolling hills and power lines cut a swathe across the valley. Instead of the lone pioneer in von Guérard’s work, Altman depicts an incongruous Geelong football player. The painting is both striking and playful.
Altman says it was never his intention to judge or make a statement on the march of progress. “The word ‘progress’ is subjective in that it suggests positive development,” he says. “Not all development is positive but some is inevitable. Mostly the development in this country is well regulated. I don’t mind the increase in population down here. I live here because I like it, why shouldn’t others?”
Signs of human industry feature in many of his paintings. In one painting, shipping containers are stacked in a horse paddock with factory chimneys in the background, and in another painting, bright yellow road signs dominate a coastal view creating an almost abstract pattern. “The images are mainly about balancing colour, form and graphics in composition,” Altman says. “They are visual problems that occur to me when I see something that catches my eye as I move through my world.”
Altman studied Fine Art Painting at RMIT and has been painting regularly ever since. He was short listed for the Fletcher Jones Art Prize in 2006. Preparing for this exhibition and meeting deadlines has helped him to focus and develop his practice over the past twelve months.
So how does Altman cultivate his ideas into a painting? Altman says he starts by drawing and writing about ideas in sketchbooks. When he chooses to develop a particular idea further he goes back to the site and does drawings and paintings in gouache with written notes and takes photographs on site. Back in the studio he combines the information from the drawings to create a final composition. At this stage his landscapes are all undercoated with a paint he makes from jarosite pigment collected from the old ochre mine at Pt Addis. When that dries, he is ready to apply the colour.
Many artists have influenced his work he says. “I would like to think that as artists we draw on a massive body of knowledge of art history to create any work – in particular for this show Cezanne, McCubbin, Nicolas de Stael, Mark Rothko, Geoffrey Smart and of course, Eugene Von Guérard.”
Altman may be more concerned with resolving visual problems and compositions than making judgements about the effects of urbanisation but nevertheless, his paintings do highlight the way our society impinges upon the landscape. However, he is not overly analytical about it. “What people take away from this exhibition is up to them. Worrying too much about what people think of my art is too restrictive. I just paint ’em and put ’em out there.”
Urban Wildland Interface is on until 5 December at the Geelong Gallery.