Artist Brett Weir. By Benjamen Judd.
In order to navigate across the various regions of Australia’s landscape, Indigenous nations evolved the practice of songlines – a poetry that was part mythology and part GPS system that traced the shape of the continent, giving the singer intimate knowledge of how to walk safely across its surface. The system was a mimetic function, relying upon the memory of the individual to recall the correct song for the ground they wished to traverse. It is a similar form of memory immersion into the contrastingly harsh and beautiful bushland of Australia that, after a prolonged absence from his native home, Brett Weir’s latest collection of paintings plays upon.
After living in Europe for close to a decade, Weir’s latest collection of work is an exploration of the landscape that he once called home – a landscape that is simultaneously familiar yet has become increasingly alien. In much the same way that distance and time work upon the memory, the images in Weir’s paintings fluctuate, sitting somewhere between the picturesque and the uncanny. Scenes normally so iconic to the Australian psyche shift, unsettling the viewer and emphasising the surreal emptiness that is so unique to the Australian outback.
In Weir’s work, the line between surrealist and realism is a thin one that works to unsettle the viewer, capturing the unsuspecting alienation so often experienced when seeing the Australian landscape for the first time. Or, as it is in the case of Weir, looking back in time.
INTERVIEW BRETT WEIR
Tell me a little more about your background – what drove you to become a painter?
Actually I majored in Drawing at the V.C.A in Melbourne. However I have always had a deep interest in painting – a preoccupation that began when I would accompany my aunty to en plein air painting excursions as a boy; we worked in watercolours then.
Following my studies I set off on what would become a decade of more or less constant travel, never staying anywhere longer than six months. Most of the time I was living pretty rough, hitching around the country with a backpack, fishing rod and light-weight bivvy and sleeping out. I kitted up with a set of primary acrylics and had small panels of plywood or MDF cut to the approximate format of the cigar-box paintings by the Heidelberg artists. I painted on the move, drew in sketchbooks…whatever or whoever I happened to be in the company of. Once I found an abandoned house in the Queensland bush and there I made some large canvases, but mostly I was limited to making what I could carry with me and using quick-drying paints.
Then, on a camping trip when I was in my late 20’s, a good friend, a painter who is older than I am and more organised, invited me to use his oil paints – thanks Robsky! It was an instant love affair and I have been painting in oils ever since.
What eventually gave you the idea (and desire) to relocate to Zurich?
After the ten years of constant travel, I had developed a hankering to nest. I had been working a summer job for a wealthy man in the countryside of Scotland, doing his garden and whatever maintenance he required, and then painting at night in my half of the mansion. Following that I had a five-week job lined up in Zurich at a theatre festival. It was there that I met my big love, Natasa. I extended my trip a few months. She then came to visit in Australia, I followed her back and we have been going between the two places ever since – which is about as close as I seem to get to settling. Zurich has a very rich art scene, is centrally located in Europe and is generally a fabulous place to live.
Untitled | Oil on aluminium | 25 x 40cm
What artists have influenced your work over the years? (Personally, there are two artists in particular that come to mind when I look through your current works – namely, Arthur Streeton and Gerhard Richter.)
You have picked two of a handful of favourites right off the bat. I am also influenced by the work of Bill Henson, Goya, Manet, as well as friends and contemporaries such as David Jolly and William Mackinnon. I have been seeing a lot of really strong painting in Australia lately – it is very exciting!
Can you tell me a little more about the collection of work that you are exhibiting? When you take in to account the stark quality and the size of the paintings, it is a rather intimate collection.
The work in this show is quite personal in that it addresses directly the place that I have always called home, but am increasingly ambivalent about – specifically in terms of things like environmental policy, the prevailing consumerist, churn-it-burn-it attitude and rising costs of living (a factor crucial to artistic freedom). These paintings continue the celebration of light and space that I have been exploring over the last five years or so, but are peppered with reservation.
Both untitled | Oil on aluminium | 25 x 40cm
Throughout the collection, you fluctuate between a rural Australian landscape to an almost purely abstract surface – can you explain what the connection between the two is for you?
The impetus for the works that appear figurative is the same for the apparently abstract pieces. In the less recognisable paintings I have simply pushed an image beyond the limits of the representational. In more or less erasing the recognisable aspects of a landscape I am attempting to reference the anxiety I feel at my place in world, and humanity’s relationship to the land we inhabit.
You paint using oils over copper and aluminium – can you describe your experience of combining these two materials in comparison with a canvas? What drove you to choose these?
I never did like painting on canvas. The things I painted onto were always the things that I found lying around – refuse such as packing boxes, wood, rusted bits of metal then, later, salvaged copper, stainless steel and aluminium.
Both copper and aluminium having no tooth means that the paint travels in a certain way, which I find appealing. A great range of surfaces are achievable – certainly no less than with canvas. I enjoy the contrast of the painted surface and naked copper or aluminium; elements of that material interplay often serve as functions of my compositional choices.
You also make your own frames – do you consider this to be a part of the creative process?
A lot of people think that it is old school or unfashionable to frame paintings nowadays; I avoid trends wherever possible. It also seems to me that a lot contemporary art takes too much for granted and ends up being sloppy. I want my work to be loose at times, controlled at others. The frames I make, which are generally a floating frame that sits relatively deep on the wall but cuts a fine line around the work when viewed frontally, provide an element of tightness – a certain external structure to the compositions.
All the frames I make are from salvaged hard woods. I am a collector, Natasa would say a hoarder, but primarily I try to be resourceful and waste as little as possible.
Brett in studio. Zurich (2013).
Brett’s work is currently on show at the studio until Monday 12th May 2014.