Katrina Read Extends Australia’s Legacy of Nature Painting

Written by: Maurice Taplinger

Given the richness of the country's natural resources, it should surprise no one that there is a strong tradition of landscape painting in Australia. It dates all the way back to the colonial period work of Thomas Wantling and Conrad Martens, continued in the modernist nature paintings of Lloyd Rees and John Passmore, and still thrives among contemporary nature painters such as Katrina Reed, whose acrylics on canvas are on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from November 20 to December 11. (Reception Thursday November 29, from 6 to 8 PM.

Read stated in a recent interview that she considers herself lucky to have been born in a place with such a diverse landscape, where "an outdoor lifestyle has always been part of the culture," and her joy in depicting it is made manifest in her affectionate views of the country's rugged terrain. Works such as "A Place of Peace" and "My Secret Place" depict vistas of sandy beach and blue sky, giving a sense of the land's vast, unforgiving beauty. These are not picturesque or romanticized views; rather they capture the matter of fact beauty before the artist's eyes, sans superfluous flourishes: the sandy stretches punctuated by scrubby vegetation, the solitude of great empty spaces. There is a gorgeous desolation to some of Read's paintings that makes one realize why, though many Australian artists have followed global trends toward abstraction, conceptualism, and other newer tendencies, certain painters have remained solidly grounded in the land. And Read appears to be one of the more accomplished among them for her ability to evoke the raw beauty that makes this particular parcel of land so unique.

More recently, however, Read has turned her attention to a subject below the actual level of the land itself, in a unique series of paintings of koi, a species of fish ubiquitous in Australia and much beloved in Japan. Although displaying the same painterly finesse as her landscapes, this series of underwater works has its own unique qualities. For while Read's depiction of the fish is entirely naturalistic, her compositions are newly dispersed in a manner more akin to Asian art (which may be why she applies the term "Contemporary Zen" to this series). In any case, Read creates great compositional diversity with this simple subject, capturing in minute detail the graceful movements of the koi and of the water through which they navigate. The superb handling of light, which has always been an important feature of her landscapes is subtly amplified in this series via the translucent and reflective qualities of the aqueous environment, particularly in the painting called "Through Honeyed Glass," where the surface of the water is especially luminous. The fairly large size of these canvases also adds to the impact of Read's imagery, lending an unaccustomed sense of scale and significance to a humble subject, as does the associative poetry inherent in titles such as "Wishful," which suggestively echoes the swishing movements of the fish.

Katrina Read has stated that she wishes her work to "capture a sense of calm and peace" and to achieve "a form of connectedness through each painting with the viewer," and she succeeds splendidly in this series.

Image Credits: PROSPEROUS - Acrylic on Canvas 48"x54"

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