Essential Landscape Paintings. Miki van Zwanenberg.
My paintings are very rarely of specific places, although the genesis of an idea for a painting might have been initially prompted by a particular location. In this particular exhibition, the paintings on display reflect my time spent in Australia, Tasmania, Spain, France, England and Lanzarote. I never paint ‘en plain air’. I might do a very sketchy line drawing of a hillside or a watercourse but not always. I only put brush to canvas in my London studio and this could be many months later. When I am looking at a landscape that is exactly what I do - look. I am not looking so I can remember the details and reproduce it, like a photograph, in my studio. What I want to remember is how it makes me feel, what lies beneath the surface, what it sounds like. Listening is as important as looking. It is this feeling, and the changing feeling that I have when recollecting the landscape months later, that I am trying to express on the canvas. Over the period of time between the first experience and the recollection of it, my feelings about it have evolved and taken on many layers and that is what is on the canvas - layers of memory, layers of emotion and, indeed, layers of pigment. The process of trying to put the experience on canvas is like a conversation. I’ll open with some initial colours, let them dry, see what they have to say to me, agree or disagree, add some more and so on, building up a multi-layered image which speaks to me and, hopefully, the viewer on many levels. I would hope that there is something in the composition or the colours that initially arrest the viewer’s attention but that a longer look will begin to reveal some of the complexities that lie behind and beneath all landscape. Abstraction is a way of trying to address this complexity and invite the viewer to experience my emotional reactions and to add their own.
When people ask me, which they frequently do, what kind of painting I do I never know what to say. They clearly want a pigeon-hole to put me into, a simplistic answer to save themselves the trouble of further investigation or as a convenient entry-point as to how they should react to my work. What kind of painting did Caravaggio do? What kind of painting did Hodgkin do? Not, I hasten to add, that I put myself on a par with these two, but it does show the futility of the question and the impossibility of giving a meaningful answer. I’m the kind of painter that puts oil paint on canvas, steps back, and then puts on a bit more, until it tells me it’s finished. If pushed, and to play the game that is required of one, I would say I paint abstract landscapes. But this tells you very little.