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STILL  By Megan Seawright

The Bouquet lingers

Suspended in a marvelling indigo depth

Where a few strokes brush

Recollection.

Illuminating the maybe,

Frankly given to win over the night.

I can remember,

When such singular

Solitary

Was my only pass.

When a bouquet was more living.

Than a brooding mastering of

The line,

And yet….

There we have it., this art of symbolic rephrasing that John Lancashire has committed to over many years. Interviewed from his home and studio, it becomes apparent that he has had a long journey in his contemporary musings with expressive realism and abstraction.

Raised in Australia, he started art school back in the 1980’s, fresh and focused with the only future intention of being practicing artist. This didn’t last long as Sydney’s inner-city lifestyle was distracting and after leaving two art schools he had essentially flushed serious artmaking away.  John ended up in various odd jobs leading to hairdressing which has remained a mainstay. Today with the rise of interest in his artworks, this may change too. After the birth of his son, John, his partner Deb reconsidered living in Sydney and relocated to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, with family nearby, the move was a new and good start.

Looking at an artwork, a viewer can find themselves less occupied by theory and more profoundly placed into experiences of expression evidently layered into a canvas. The viewer resides temporarily alongside the artist in grasp of content and curiosity. Illuminous emotion, sharp tacks and generous give-away can front forward from the artist behind the brush. Lancashire’s painting has been a coming aware time for him too. His firmly growing body of work testimony to inner grit and the decision to change it up. There are powerful influences that have clued him, not least; Arthur Boyd, Matisse, Picasso, and further on, George Condo and Lisa Yuskavage. The telling association with these influences is his own disposition toward a similar sense of rebellious exploration - the unkept motivation and a compelled focus to express with resolve, to work the issues of paint, structure and line so to quench ones’ own inner impulse.

Picasso and Matisse’s own artistic defiance were acts of destabilising the norms of impressionism, leading to the Cubist and Fauvist movements of the modernist era.[1] Matisse’s painting tipped line and palette away from what was there to what was felt to be there and paring even that further back, holding a complex commitment to repetition of motive and feeling. Both psychological and via scene or object, all is unearthed. Further towards now, another challenger, George Condo, openly explores his own artistic influences, stating he wanted to find out “how to take realism to another level”. [2] With deep resonance for Lancashire, his own work in 2018 is tracking a similar modernist mode.

In Lancashire’s most recent series of roses, he conveys a slipping away from expressive realism. Backgrounds are removed, the form is peeled back to symmetry of geometrics, a block palette, light and a few simple scrapings. The horizons disappear, and flowers are left suspended in vast inky like spaces. The only reprieve the end of the canvas itself.  Often-times a vessel remains drawn in as an outline as if to indicate it’s good to have a place to put beauty – just in case.  Removing himself from the realism of the rose has liberated it.  As Lancashire moves his bouquet of flowers towards abstraction, the works aesthetically lift from what Margot Osborne [3] discusses in her interview with art writer Ellen Dissanyake, who speaks of ‘tangible relevance’ where the beauty of everyday gives impact, and of ‘evocative resonance’ where there is “complexity or density of metaphorical meaning that goes beyond the obvious reading to evoke intangible aspects of the human condition.” [4] The viewer is left wondering why beauty is suspended just so, and how a painter must feel to linger a solitary rose in grey, its only protection a slim mark of a vase. Lancashire’s efforts are to work aesthetically beyond the obvious of everyday objects., sojourning behind his own opacity so to be the artist he wishes to be. These paintings prompt the viewer to stop and take a longer wandering gaze.

Development in the artistic process is important. Artist George Condo has spent a career diffusing style from across artistic time zones into one present moment through his own working.  Similarly, Lancashire is processing his influences simultaneously whist creating his own code.  Condo states” I realised art was more than just representation, it was a trip into your mind and what you can see there. And how you could materialise it in the form of visual experience.” [5] Lancashire willingly returns to the same visual metaphors in pursuit of materialisation. Curious to the intangible behind the composition, he alters his chosen forms from work to work, challenging positionality. This repetition leads him a place to sit just like the chairs he paints, a locale for his own artistic identity to take a rest, to ponder, and even take a stance from.  He states “I’m buying into doing the same painting all the time on some level. When you resign yourself to that, it makes the path easier. I am painting from my language again and again.”  

Lancashire’s flower and vase motifs provide orientation to his process. The primary aspects of colour and relationship, even the material he is painting on become a focus for his attention. The composition of each work arises from these block strengths. For several years Lancashire has painted from his own wonderland of visual symbols; rabbit, the rat, the cloud, the chair, the vase and the horizon line, all in variations.  The cloud hanging about in the sky like an ever-present reminder of loaded emotion, ready to darken heavily or lighten like a new born idea just waiting in the sky for entry, if he’d let it in.  Lancashire painted a strong series of animals through these formats, the rabbit - a strong tough wee creature yet fluffy and white often, the donkey - a tenacious rotunda of will, and swans- the classical symbol of grace, grace being a path through.  The vessels are quite important, their palette is bold and personal to his feelings, these objects stray from their true forms, stretched, perceptually emphasised for their markings, their weight and placement on the canvas.  Intentional or not, Lancashire paints classically representational symbols, universally recognised. The viewer gains opportunity to sense relationship and note a lineage of meaning. Though Lancashire himself states he has largely pursued a methodology of simply painting, he is trying to return to that quintessential belief for himself; “I have an idea, then I’ll give it a try… (paintings) they’re very unplanned, I just make a mark.”  In his own words “I am trying to find a new language, but now am not projecting an idea’.  A statement of reminder to Lancashire’s self- immersed ‘explorer’ architype and his questing through painting itself.

Arthur Boyd, renowned Australian painter,[6] and American painter Lisa Yuskavage[7] are recognised for their profound figurative works and taking expressionism to an exposing edge. Boyd’s lines and symbols are bold and torn open with rich and stark colours driven through his compelled necessity to paint, and along with Yuskavages challenging figuring, defying convention on all layers of motive, and a transformative and countering use of colour, all courts influence with Lancashire. Both have forged fresh approaches to the conventions of their day. It is not that Lancashire is following this, but he too is exploring what colour means to him.  Yuskavages colour dramatic works pop her figures in and out of view like an exposure, given to blending and softened edges. Lancashire own objects appear to have a state of being, returning the viewer again to the effect of symbolic inferring. Often dissipating to abstraction or briskly claiming centre stage, his certain use of the brush and evolving colour palette complements his intended locations – a dusky night-time for roses or a daylight bright table assemblance. More so he’s applying paint with definite gesture and a liberal consideration, finding knowing from the pliable nature of paint itself. Why roses, vessels and horizon lines? In Lancashire’s words they’re a “perfect vehicle for moving around paint, or for using colours that I like, yep…”  Isn’t this a fundamental motivation for a painter? The drive to meet the needs of their own human condition and that self-requirement to follow their path.

Lancashire’s influencers are rebel explorers of one kind or another, they paint from within with visible motivations, seeking themselves through instigating change to the norms of the season. Lancashire the rebel from art school has returned home, with drawing always kept up and a new-found commitment to paint finding its place.  In the film ‘Lisa Yuskavage: The Brood’ [8], Yuskavage talks of the moment she decided to continue painting when both she and her work experienced serious unacceptance. Her husband suggested she might let the painting do the rebelling rather than she herself. This reset the course of her work, its form, technique and mastery. It’s good to see an artist like Lancashire exercising his tools with similar intent. Settling into the work and letting it rise.  He is surveying lines and layers through technique and repetition, his found influences and self-discovery. These bold willingness’ are worth it, Lancashire’s paintings are a pleasure. 

[1] https://youtu.be/Waqdwb9EcRQ

[2] https://youtu.be/BhRdlVcQnjk  

[3] 2008 Artlink 28:2 Margo Osborne: Homo Aestheticus, p56-58

[4] 2008 Artlink 28:2 Margo Osborne: Homo Aestheticus, p 58

[5] https://youtu.be/BhRdlVcQnjk  

[6]https://youtu.be/KtHr3gpEmQk     

[7] https://youtu.be/zENfGAnB9hw   

[8] https://youtu.be/zENfGAnB9hw