When you think of a beautiful landscape what do you think of? Probably not environments that are denuded and degraded by mining or farming. But these are precisely the kinds of places that captivate artist Neville Pilven and he conveys them with a poetic sensibility in his mixed media paintings.
Twenty of his works are on exhibition at Salt Contemporary Art in Land Images, and they depict scenes from the Wimmera region of Western Central Victoria where he has a cottage studio, and from around the Northern Territory where he travelled last year.
Pilven is drawn to the unusual geological and geographical features found in the countryside, and the way the landscape has evolved over time or changed due to human activity. He says it is the flatness and the harshness of the landscape that appeals to him. “The beauty of that is wonderful,” he says. “I love the colouration of the area, the feel of it, and the smell of the wet, dry grass when it rains in summer. It’s got that wonderful sensation about it.”
Developing his own unique artistic expression of the Australian landscape, Pilven is interested in an abstract interpretation of what he sees: strong contrasts in colour and light, bold shapes, richly textured surfaces and an earthy palette. “It’s the interpretation of that vision,” Pilven explains. “I’m interested in attaining the pictorial thing that I am looking at. Not painting it as it is, but my interpretation.”
Pilven has been painting for over 50 years and has been inspired by some of the great Australian painters such as Ian Fairweather, Fred Williams, Russell Drysdale, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan. “You take bits and pieces from these people and you leave a lot behind and you slowly develop your own interpretation and expression,” he says.
He works wet on dry, allowing the paint to dry before he reworks it, gradually building up the layers of paint. It is a constant editing process, scraping paint back, putting more paint on, that can take weeks. He says every painting is a struggle and likens the creative process to a battle. “The point of the battle is to get past those struggles and try and produce a work of art that sits comfortably within itself.”
Recently Pilven was the subject of a short documentary directed by Clive Willman. This gently paced video offers an insight into Pilven’s artistic process and reveals his deep affinity with nature. If you have a spare 13 minutes, make a cuppa and enjoy this peek into Pilven’s studio and work.
Land Images runs from 21 September to 8 October at Salt Contemporary Art, 33-35 Hesse St, Queenscliff. www.salt–art.com.au