At 94 Guy Warren is one of Olsen Irwin’s more senior artists.
Edward Hoddle, Manager of the Olsen Irwin Works on Paper Gallery, had the opportunity to meet with guy and discuss his life and his art.
Guy’s generation saw first hand the horrors of the Second World War. Guy, who turned 18 in 1939, served in the Australian army throughout the war. The world now seems strikingly different to the one the fresh-faced 18-year-old Guy Warren went to defend. Technological advances throughout his lifetime has made the world more accessible and transformed our society. Guy’s work has continued to change and develop to adapt to these changes.
Guy has enjoyed an almost sell out show at the Works on Paper Gallery. The works in the exhibition explore the integration of human existence within the natural world and is made up of landscapes produced during recent trips to Alice Springs, Broken Hill, The Nullarbor Plains and Equator. Mythology, memory and personal experience are all intertwined within Guy’s landscape linking the natural world to human experience.
The great Australian art critic John McDonald wrote in his essay, Guy Warren: Figure in a Landscape,
“The most important thing for Warren is that each work represents a transforming feat of the imagination, a way of re-imagining or re-inventing the world, not simply a record of sensory experiences”
This quote from McDonald encapsulates the essence of Guy’s landscapes. The application a few simple strokes carefully applied by Guy is able to induce a sense of narrative, time and mythology.
It has been a complete honour to work with Guy during the show the show. Guy is a true gent the truest of sense of the word. His passion and energy for art clearly still dives him and it has been a wonderful experience to work with him. I had the pleasure of asking Guy a few questions about the show and his experience as an artist.
Guy Warren Interview
Q1) You recently celebrated your 94th birthday, is the naming of the show ‘On the road’ a reflection of your desire to keep going and not slow down?
The images in the show derive from several sources — Alice Springs, Broken Hill and Ecuador. It was my son’s suggestion to call it “On the Road” as a reference to those wanderings. But I like your reading of the title — about keeping going and not slowing down. Exactly how I feel.
Q2) The show is comprised of landscapes, what is it about the Australian landscape that attracts you?
What do I like about the Australian landscape? The tough uncompromising power of it all. I tried to paint the English landscape when my wife and I lived in London for eight years but i found it all too calm and beautiful — like a great park. i prefer the toughness of the Australian landscape. Anyway, it’s probably in my psyche — I’ve walked across it, slept in many different and difficult parts of it, driven through it, for most of my life. It’s part of me now.
Q3) There is interplay of mythology and spirituality associated within your landscapes. Is this something you read from the landscape or something you place within it?
I find it difficult to see the landscape without thinking of all the people who have lived and died in — and on — that land for thousands of years. I think the works frequently shift between the figurative and the abstract as they experiment with the placement of the figure within the landscape. I am interested in mythology and the metaphors we construct in order to make sense of man in nature and, perhaps, the presence of nature in man. If you have read the autobiographical section in my book you may remember that I was intrigued by the way the local people in New Guinea decorated themselves to the point where they almost merged into their richly decorative landscape — a wonderful metaphor for the idea that we are part of the environment, not the owners or masters of it. For many years my paintings were inspired by the rainforests of New Guinea and the rainforest around a retreat near Jamberoo on the NSW south coast – an area of thick, lush, heavily-textured growth with a mountainous escarpment behind. This area has been the source of many of my images, including the “Wingman” and the Gaia figure — the latter a reference to both the Greek myth of Gaia as a mother-earth figure and to the books of the English scientist James Lovelock. More recently, though, I have been working with the sparse landscape of Alice Springs and Broken Hill, a different challenge and a change from the rainforest. The figure of the bride at Broken Hill came about one morning when I was working with Ann Thomson on a hill, surrounded by the detritus of old mining building and machinery — and a bridal party, fully attired in bridal finery, suddenly arrived. It was surrealistic.
Q4 ) Many of the works are entitled ‘Field Notes” is working en plein air something you find benefits your creative process?
I enjoy drawing in the landscape, sometimes in black and white or colour, and looking and walking through it, trying to get to know and understand it, but I don’t enjoy setting up an easel and working in oils. The wind blows the easel down, the sand blows onto the paint, the flies and mosquitoes zoom in. Not my favourite way of working.
Q5) Your works strike a balance between figurative and abstract. Would you say you’re inspired by the figurative or does the figurative return in your abstraction?
This has probably been answered by No 4.
Q6) As a senior artist what advice would you give to younger artists trying to start out?
I’m not sure that I’m the right one to ask. I’m still learning. Keep doing what you think is right and honest to your own personal experiences and background and be as professional as you can be. Mix with other artists. Learn from them. Study the old masters. Read a lot. Look a lot. Think a lot. Be brave, take risks, don’t be afraid of disasters. Don’t be frightened to do something stupid — it might work. Trust your intuition. Expect great doubts and occasional depression. Keep working. But I warn you — as you get older it doesn’t get easier.
Q7) Your show has been a large success and has sold around 80% of the works so far. What can we expect from your larger show in September?
I hope the September show will be much better, but like every artist I know — and every artist in history — one’s creative life is full of doubts. There is no easy way. The American artist Philip Guston said “Doubt is the critical awareness of the existence of alternatives.” Bob Hughes said “The greater the artist, the greater the doubts. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Despite all the doubts along the way, the work for September is looking good.