Adam Pyett’s still life and landscape works are comprehensively captivating – notable is the luscious beauty & the artist’s unparalleled mannerisms.
The singular and vast minutiae of mark-making in his landscapes convey the intricacy and range of distance, density and nature’s diversity, all the while eliciting joy, wonder and excitement in the viewer.
Celebrating the aesthetic!
Every work of art – whether strictly realistic, completely abstracted, or somewhere in between – is built upon certain aesthetic devices such as value, colour, composition, shape, or the texture of the paint itself…as a painting becomes more abstract, the narrative subject becomes less obvious and the visual experience shifts increasingly toward the aesthetic devices themselves.
Abstract work, above all, celebrates the aesthetic over the recognizable ‘nameable’ subject.
Mystery in Adam Pyett’s work!
All art worthy of sustained attention imparts a sense of mystery to some extent, and for many reasons this is true of Adam Pyett’s work. Primarily, he is ‘presenting an image in paint’, not a faithful representation of reality. While the Australian landscape may be the catalyst, the artist’s impetus is internal to the act and process of painting not external to it.
It’s never been about realism in the true sense, it’s more about rewarding paintings…but I’ve been very interested in the idea of exaggerating some things and ignoring other things.
For all that, the Australian landscape is infinitely detailed and full of mystery: the depth of that mystery only intelligible to a few. That level of detail both inspires and excites a master such as Pyett: the end products are testimony to this. The natural environment stimulates the artist to begin, firstly with a drawing, and finally an image in paint back in the studio which may take some time to complete.
Indigenous flora and plant life feature heavily in his works representing his affection for our distinct environment, and both the beauty, and mystery, that this singular terrain evokes.
The inexhaustible variety in the Australian bush offers manifold challenges which the painter can imaginatively manipulate – ignore or exaggerate: composition, colour, form and light as well as application in order to project the qualities that drive his creative spirit.
I want the painting to be rewarding when you stand up close to it and also when you are standing on the other side of the room. It will reveal itself in different ways.
Up close the landscape paintings reveal the many styles, contours, and or contrivances, which characterise the artist’s application of paint. These same qualities cohere to become more defined ‘flatter’ ‘silhouettes and ultimately, a different image from a distance.
The fluid shapes and discrete complex passages spark with light, lightness and the painterly incident.
Spending time in the bush in addition to studying these works (the infinite number of strokes and passages) brings home the full realisation of the amount of material the landscape offers up to the artist.
It reminds us too how little we understand our natural surroundings, the boundless textures, the depth of ‘activity’ constantly at work, and thus, a landscape perpetually in transition.
These attributes conspire to enhance the enigma of the bush, which the artist captures in these works. The enigmatic qualities referred to obliquely in the following excerpt:
But now it had the charm for her…especially in the summer, when she could sit on a grassy hollow under the shadow of a branching ash…and listen to the hum of insects, like tiniest bells on the garment of Silence. George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book 5, Ch. 1
Adam Pyett’s landscapes seem to hum with the gentle vibrations, the undetectable rhythms and small occurrences indicative of nature: this goes some way to explaining the sense of mystery at the heart of these paintings.
Like the tiniest bells on the garment of silence, Pyett has a way of painting in minute tracts of hue and related tones (albeit within extensive stroke and ‘utensil’ differentials) which imbue the works with soft flickers of animation – as if the light or circumstances might change at any moment as it is possible in nature. Hence, aspects of these works not dissimilar to Impressionism.
A fresh immediacy is brought to the painting, one that encourages close contemplation of these evocative works.
The fresh immediacy is seen and felt as both a fragile atmospheric quality symptomatic of the works, and a type of all-encompassing technical shorthand which activates the picture plane; sometimes more sometimes less (for example, the shadows playing over the water in Merri Creek).
Continuing the stream of thought, while these are paintings of ‘a landscape’ the network of marks, and flashes of quasi-fluorescent colour, mean they little resemble a ‘truthful representation’ of a big tree beside the Yarra. Though, Ivanhoe suggests dawn given the diffusion of ‘pink – pale coral’ background light, and certainly, quirks of nature can produce surreal visual instances.
Contemplating the artworks at close range uncovers the elaborate methods employed. Yet, that level of refinement belies the effect the viewer obtains the further distant they are.
Attempting to understand how the artist is capable of such refined attention, which enables innumerable effortless readings, courtesy of distance, is at once difficult to comprehend and captivating.
Over a practice of twenty-eight years, the artist has developed cultivated sensibilities derived from both a continuing education in paint and colour theory. Additionally, he must inevitably adapt to and accommodate the day-to-day rigors the exhibition schedule imposes. As an experienced painter Pyett is able to unify the underlying structure of the compositions: no matter the portion enlarged it synchronises with the whole and yet works in its own right.
This realisation brought a great 19th century artist to mind.
His reduction of the visible world into basic, underlying shapes, the faceted brushstrokes that seem to reconstruct nature through purely painterly forms, the fracture and flattening of space—all these can be seen as the beginnings of modern art. Yet Cézanne himself stressed that he painted from nature and according to his sensations, seeking to realize a “harmony parallel to nature”.
Undeniably, the above quote is true of Adam Pyett’s method, and in particular the palette and application. Paint is applied with nuanced strokes of tone and hue; the methodical brushstrokes creating distinct yet unified zones.
As mentioned, the original sketch is a vehicle or starting point to exploring a unique vision that is his alone. For Pyett, the plethora of elements within a landscape and the way in which a view of nature changes the further away we are highlight both the potential and possibility for experimentation and subjectivity.
Predominantly, the picture is a creation of Pyett’s mind and as such he chooses to make the images more or less abstract or representational; expressionistic or impressionistic.
Part of the power of these works is a feeling of supple dynamism or tranquil drama, (a kind of restrained virtuoso performance between the artist and the landscape). The landscape is perpetually in transition, dancing to its own tune, similarly, Pyett’s manipulation of technique and colour promote the sense that the image projected may alter spontaneously.
Looking at the paintings and attempting to uncover what it is that makes them exhilarating to view from any point, is in part due to the obvious patterns of individual strokes: plus the integrity of each section towards the totality. Related to that concept is the tension the artist sets up between the picture plane (flat surface) of two dimensions and the three-dimensional image made up of intimate mini-scapes.
The patch-like colour distribution is antithetical to drawing, in that there are no definitive linear demarcations: simply subtle ‘blocks’ of form and colour. This mode of working adds to the spontaneous effect.
While pondering Cézanne’s work (1839 – 1906) I came to see other similarities.
His “constructive stroke,” as it is often described, results from penetrating analysis. It represents rather than imitates visual effects. Color relationships render the fundamental nature and connectedness of what Cézanne saw and felt.
Fragments of Frisson
It is possible to believe that we are synchronised with the exulting artist when viewing these works and especially the segments of frisson.
Pyett is permitted exultation because he is capable of presenting the peculiar remoteness of his esoteric craft. The artist captures a ‘one-off’ vision of the landscape (quite literally), and at the same time, facilitates connections to be identified with on many levels by the viewer. One way he does this is by dint of frissons which are found throughout: enunciated sensations of colour and form revealed upon close inspection. Although unable to fully equate to the idiosyncratic practice, by recourse to the picturesque frisson we are able to grasp something of the obscure yet exciting world of the artist.
The power, beauty and intricacy of Pyett’s work tell us the artist’s psyche is deeply embedded in his practice. By association too is his love of and identification with the singular and subtle grandeur of the Australian bush.
Great summation of Adam’s beautiful and characteristic style!
Sophie Gannon Gallery
National Gallery of Art (NGA) for more information on Cézanne, Washington DC
Gippsland Art Gallery: Adam Pyett is a finalist in the John Leslie Art Prize 2020 for landscape painting at GAG
Disclaimer. The above article is a brief synopsis of thoughts on the landscapes of Adam Pyett. It is not intended to be exhaustive, and as such much more could be said. The chosen images just a few of the many landscapes the artist is known for.