Philip Hunter

City Gallery

Philip Hunter’s landscapes based on the tropical Kakadu region of Australia emerge from webs and swaths of painterly brushwork. His forms are more the result of automatism than description, and his paint disguises as much as it reveals. That these paintings are landscapes is largely a matter of agreement between the artist and his audience since there are no precise counterparts for these images in the real world. Their coherence is less the byproduct of their verisimilitude than the result of the artist’s vision. Hunter’s work shares marked affinities with Surrealist painting and, like such art, makes great use of cubist “passage.” Though his painting aims to serve no revolution other than that of the soul, a work such as Continent, 1989, animated by his formalist bravura and feverish ambition to transcendence, makes Hunter liable to charges of anachronism.

Hunter’s marks border clouds of intense color, and he arranges these areas in tonal transitions building zones of lightness. In an inversion of normative perspective, shapes that are closer to the picture plane are blurred; further back, drawing is more precise and detailed. These works are painted with specially made pigments that exhibit an intense metallic lustre. Continent resembles a photographic negative and its luminous explosive quality takes on an ironic, purgatorial air. There is a destructive edge to the works and thick glazing prematurely ages his forms. Hunter is a Dorian Gray of landscape, and his views purposefully abuse the motif. The works are best when he allows a sharp focus but, when detail is lacking, his formal structures seem merely rhetorical.

Hunter’s chaotic fields of rich color and scrawled, emblematic brush marks clearly record the imagination’s excesses. This is a source of confusion for Hunter’s audience, because while his works teeter on the brink of chaos, they also demonstrate an excess of control and cohesion. His paintings have the look of both landscape and academic semi-abstraction, and to this extent his communications are ambiguous. Hunter’s is a playful sublime. While the conceit of landscape painting is familiar , the desire to revive a corpse—the grand European tradition—has held little attraction for contemporary artists. If Hunter meant to charge his images with such dramatic implications, he might have offered some hint of Jerusalem at the pictures’ deepest point of recession to alert the viewer to the Blakean prospects of these landscapes of the mind. It is telling that he alternates passages of clarity with large areas of blankness. Hardly suggestive of Kakadu, his anthropomorphic shapes belong to the realm of metaphor and the land of dreams.

Charles Green