Geoff Dyer - Vision Splendid
Geoff Dyer in his Hobart studio; creative mess - the artist's studio; Ocean Beach oil on canvas 122 x 213cm
Geoff Dyer picks me up from my hotel in a battered old green BMW, ashtray overflowing, cigarette ash drifting in the air. His weathered face cracks into a roguish grin. We arrive at his studio, in an old brewery. Unlocking the door, he apologises for the mess. I don’t mind mess, I respond (this is true). “This is where it happens!” he announces with a self-deprecating flourish.
I enter an artist’s studio from central casting: paint-splattered raw floor, worn leather club chairs, canvasses stacked and propped, buckets, rags, tubes, brushes, papers, boots – everything crusted in oil paint. It’s situated in a turn-of-the-century building with exposed rafters and unrendered rough-painted brick walls. The windows are original, arched and flooded with pale Hobart light.
“I’ve been here ten years – all the other studios I’ve had have never lasted more than two – I feel like I’m (really) painting here,” he says.
We wander around, looking. Dyer warns me to watch my feet (it’s tricky not to step on something covered in paint!) He shifts canvasses, brings those hidden behind others out into the open, leans them up against walls. Grandly expressive, dramatic, serene; some are more beautiful than others, seascapes hovering on the brink of abstraction like late Turners, testament to his enduring fascination with light, oil paint and the natural world. Dyer has spent years inspired by the Tasmanian wilderness and the spectacular, changeable southern skies, the Gordon & King Rivers, the Midlands, the South East Coast, Mt Wellington, the islands of Bass Strait, the ocean and bays.
He works from photographs and memory, on heavy grade canvas. “It can take a lot of punishment, you know?” Techniques vary, but he often smears and scrapes the paint with a palette knife and then over the top with a big brush. “I try to make sure that the energy of the material has as much weight as the narrative … effectively, I don’t colour in.”
Studio interiors; Ocean Beach oil on canvas 167x200cm
“You think that you know yourself but you don’t,” he muses. “You have these biorhythms, sometimes you’re on form and sometimes you’re not. Even if I don’t want to keep painting, I keep it moving a bit, keep working …The beauty about this show,” he adds “is that this time I’ve given myself quite a bit of time.”
The paintings filling the studio are ready to be shipped to Sydney for exhibition at Paddington’s new MiCK Gallery. Dyer uses colour to sublime effect, but – for me - he’s a master of shades of grey, from the industrial to the tenebrous. In my favourite picture, the paint dribbles and drifts in the expansive foreground like milky rain, anchored by hard, bright chips of white on a brutal horizon.
Ocean Beach oil on canvas 152x183cm
It’s one of a suite of Ocean Beach paintings. “I don’t like to be too bland with names and I don’t like to be too bloody clever either,” he grins.
Finalist nine times in Australia’s most prestigious prize for landscape, the Wynne, Dyer has also been hung in the Archibald Prize ten times, winning the gong in 2003 with a portrait of writer – and good mate – Richard Flanagan. In 2011 he was again represented with a brilliant portrait of MONA’s David Walsh. Primarily a landscape painter, he does one portrait a year, as a rule, specifically for the Archibald. “ I’ve got a bit hooked on it,” he admits.
Acclaimed writer Flanagan is an admirer of Dyer’s work and eloquent on the subject. On launching the book on the artist, A Tasmanian Perspective: the Art of Geoff Dyer (published by Lygate Press) he said: “Geoff is a lovely man with … a largeness of spirit which in spite of many vicissitudes has never been extinguished. In the face of the snobberies and fashions and conformity of the art world he has ever been his own man, steering his own course. He has been an outsider and his work as a consequence has sometimes been ignored and occasionally derided. But this new book … reveals how singular and how surprisingly focused his vision has remained. It shows about his work a quiet courage and a resolute faith in his own talent and it proves that Geoff Dyer is a major painter that Tasmania is fortunate to call its own.”
Caspar David Freidrich, J.M.W. Turner, Frances Bacon, Antoni Tapies, Jackson Pollock, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhardt Richter … these are all influences. Dyer draws on a tradition of Australian landscape painting – Streeton, Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams – and, more locally, Tasmanian Romanticism with its roots in the Sublime, magnificent vistas tinged with ghostly echoes of a convict past, aboriginal genocide and the destruction of the natural world.
D'Entrecasteaux oil on canvas 40x50cm, Midlands II oil on canvas 120x214cm
- Susie Burge, all rights reserved
- Images of the paintings and the portrait of Geoff Dyer are courtesy of the artist & MiCK Gallery; pics of studio by Susie Burge
Geoff Dyer’s solo exhibition Recent Tasmanian Landscapes is at MiCK Gallery, 44 Gurner Street, Paddington, Sydney from January 30 to February 26. Opening Reception 2nd Feb 6-8pm www.mickthegallery.com
In Hobart, he’s represented by Despard Gallery www.despard-gallery.com.au