Australian artist WILLIAM MACKINNON reviewed by Alex Weinstein

9 Sep

The Speed of Light: paintings by William Mackinnon.

William Mackinnon’s landscape paintings portray the Australian terrain and the road laid upon it with ebullience, wonder and whispers, perhaps, of terror.

The artist makes paintings you can almost inhabit.

Mackinnon’s vision of the rural parcels around Melbourne captures the vastness of his domain in manners both terrestrial and emotional. But movement and displacement abound in his pictures too, conveying temporal urgency with stunning effect.

In day-lit long-range views of wooded cliffs along the sea, and racy snap shots from nocturnal car rides wrought with dazzling painterly invention and compositional risk, Mackinnon suggests the notion that the extraordinary abounds in the mundane and that the search for a perfect wave is not unlike the struggle to make a perfect work of art.

WILLIAM MACKINNON, "Crossroads"

WILLIAM MACKINNON, “Crossroads”

In Shoreham, 2013, imposing forests with trees like prison bars occlude the vista of a distant and lonesome cove flecked with hooded surfers, waiting for sets. The effect is both resplendent and chilling. In another work, Crossroads, 2013, headlights illuminate a solitary house, poised inches from a lost highway in an instant of hysterical oddness: this looming ghost house with Christmas lights dangling pell-mell, battered fence posts and a sad, leaning tree, all coming into garish focus across the windshield of the car you, the viewer, are driving. Conflicting, loaded messages abound here: is this a place to rest? Is this a place to die? Menace and welcome in equal measure; light and darkness showing and obscuring in equal measure.

These are key players in Mackinnon’s output: menace and welcome. His pictures read beautifully as maps of specific places and actual experiences but also speak so clearly to the universality of travel itself, with its conflicting emotions, drama and surprise. Many of his paintings are made from the perspective of a car’s driver, often at night, and the theme of locomotion, of movement itself, becomes a central one. Other times, the view is set back, almost idyllic: looking to the distance, through the trees at a possible destination. But the view is always interrupted by foregrounding trees and swooping valleys, larded with colorful, abundant distraction.

To move into the world is to find oneself elsewhere, redefined perhaps, by a new setting or a new set of circumstances. This is the backbone of travel and adventure and a wellspring for Mackinnon’s imagery. But he also courts this investigation and its potential prizes (and pitfalls) by taking risks with his compositions and handling his materials loosely. After all, the process of creating the painting is as much a journey as anything and Mackinnon clearly likes to go places. His paintwork recalls the fast and furious additive technique of current Euro uber-kunstlers Peter Doig and Daniel Richter but there’s also a joie-de-vivre in Mackinnon’s color that smacks more lovingly of David Hockney or even Henri Matisse. All are artists who’ve sought to advance their craft in terms personal and historical and here again Mackinnon is fighting the good fight: he’s done the reading and wrung his hands in the miasma of heady critical theory: studying in London (a bristling Art World capital) and completing a residency at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa Texas, (an American Mecca for the worship of Minimalism). But these scholarly experiences inform the work quietly. Mackinnon has an obvious gift for grand presentation and clearly wishes the work to speak for itself. It does.

 

The Dark.

Strange things happen in the dark and it’s the darkness that permeates many of Mackinnon’s best paintings. Mackinnon allows the dark real primacy. In his landscapes, blackened areas abound; often dominating his compositions and offering juicy counterpunches to the light-filled and boisterous passages where content is visible and real. In the blast of his headlights, the road dazzles with reflective markers, swooping passing-lane stripes and glowing, orange panels with arrows indicating a hard left turn to come. But beyond that, beyond the turn, utter blackness. The Void. Inky, fathomless expanses abut his lit areas with such sheer tension as to suggest potential doom or potential bliss. It becomes clear that these blackened fields are not really empty at all. No, Mackinnon’s “empty” spaces behave with all the fecund possibility – of bounty, of menace – that the imagination dares to ignite. Look into the dark spaces and there is nothing to “see” there, nothing is rendered, and yet all is perceptible. The dark stares right back at us, pregnant with the scary shit we cannot see. So while there is pictorial absence – blankness, depth, openness, what painters call “negative space” – this is also fertile acreage for great emotional density, as the viewer can’t help but load the space with content, expectation and possibility. The anti-void is what it has become.

 

The lightness of being.

In brighter pictures, cast in daylight, Mackinnon delights in exhibiting what lies at the end of his rainbows: waves. Surf spots: just beyond reach, behind trees, over hills, mighty and majestic. Immense waves loom in monolithic arcs recalling Hokusai’s brilliant woodcuts. Verdant hills and valleys flecked with light, undulate in and out of shadow, not unlike the sea itself, sometimes pictured in the distance. In the surfing paintings, the great expanse of the ocean (often rendered in stunning, curdled pools of poured pigments, surfers bobbing) quickly replaces the blackness seen in the road paintings as a cauldron of possibility. Vistas are perceivable here but this is the Ocean, with its own mysterious territory, moods and forces. And as all surfers know, once you are out there anything, anything at all, can happen.

 

Alex Weinstein

Los Angeles, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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