MICHAEL WINTERS Dissected by Time and Space
Dissected by Time and Space Michael Winters was twenty-two-years old when in October 1965 he embarked on his first trip abroad having bought a one-way ticket to Greece. The day he arrived in London, 26 May 1967, The Beatles released their eighth studio album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and less than two years later, Apollo 11 landed on the moon. To the young Australian artist, the world seemed to have changed forever and the old mythologies and the old ways of seeing things and thinking about the landscape were no longer adequate. We were seeing the earth for the first time from an entirely new perspective and, to Winters, the old conventions for viewing the landscape needed to change and to take into account fresh developments in physics, cosmology and astrophysics in the understanding of time and space. The landscape in the western tradition of painting was frequently something temporal and anchored within a specific pocket of time and space and usually consciously or subliminally reflecting an ideology. This could be one of ownership and possession or the search for God in the sublime or even a simple flight into fantasy and daydreaming to escape the squalor of an urban existence. However, there also existed other traditions of landscape art; for example, in Australian Indigenous art, landscapes frequently became aerial maps through which ancestral beings moved creating the elements of the environment. In medieval art, especially Byzantine art that Winters encountered in Greece, the landscape was alive and symbolic, where it would bear witness to God and contribute to the holy iconography of the scenes depicted. The challenge that Winters set himself was to create a new image of the landscape for a new age, one that would take into account the traditional terrestrial landscape, which we can experience on a sensory level, as well as the landscape that was revealed for the first time through space travel and astrophysics with its concepts of dark matter and black holes, and the images revealed through the Hubble Space Telescope. This new landscape was mediated through technology and was as much a conceptual landscape, about which we had theories, as a landscape encountered in photographs, some of which were taken in space or were of space. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Winters started to experiment with landscape forms that were combined with abstracted shapes floating above the canvas, as in Monolith of the Late 1960s, suggesting that the earth was being viewed from a great distance. A few years later, he painted The Curve
of Space, where a corrugated structure hovering over the picture plane disrupts the harmony of the landscape masses below. In both instances, he was attempting to destroy the tyranny of the flat painted surface and the idea of a literal transcription of an observed scene. Inherent in these early paintings was the idea of employing more than a single perspectival structure, so that instead of having a single view point, there was a conscious disjunction in the angles of perception. Not completely satisfied with these efforts, he left the idea to ferment for over thirty years until in a new century and from a fresh perspective he returned to the theme and offered a new and radical resolution. Winters’ series of sculptural landscapes emerged in about 2009 and were conceived as three-dimensional constructions that had been dissected by the dimensions of time and space. As an artist, Winters frequently thinks in quite accessible, physical forms through which he strives to express metaphysical concepts. In the modest, easel-size painting, Landscape and Void, 2009, the landscape becomes like a fabric that can be cut, dismembered and reassembled. The compositions are initially conceived as drawings on graph paper, then the forms that need to be created are cut-out of matt board and are assembled as a three-dimensional model with overlapping planes. Gouache is the main medium for the painting and is applied with a brush or spray so that there is an apparent contrast in textures with different levels of illusion and various depths of physical protrusions. In this series of paintings, at the core of the painting, that is, at its base level, there frequently appears an illusionistic, or some would describe a ‘naturalistic’ depiction of a landscape, around which whirl layers of cosmic space. The tranquillity of the original landscape painting is contrasted with the somewhat aggressive intrusions from these cosmic elements. In reading his dimensional paintings, Winters consciously creates this clash of systems of visualisation, where meaning resides neither in the illusionistic representational painting, nor in the surrounding cosmic layers, but within the quite visible seams where these systems meet and collide. In Winters’ paintings, the complexity of the piece frequently relates directly to the sophistication of the concept and the means that he has adopted in an attempt to resolve the conceptual problems that he has posed. In Landscape as Proscenium Arch, 2012, A small Greek Landscape Cradled by Time, 2012 and Landscape with Incisions and the Space Beyond, 2009, the palpable desire is to penetrate the surface and to peel away the layers as one would peel a piece of
Michael Winters, Landscape with Incisions & the Space Beyond, mixed media,120 x 240cm . Images below - work in progress.
fruit. On the occasion of exhibiting some of these paintings at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo in 2013, Winters wrote “The works are very three dimensional and the landscape is very clearly defined, however, it is cut open and punctured revealing layers underneath. These layers are to be read as cosmic space penetrating the landscape and enveloping it. Also, vertical sections of painted card spaced at even intervals indicate time and its passing. I see what I am doing as taking the real landscape and combining it with the vastness of space and the constant ticking of time into a more challenging relationship for the viewer to be confronted with and to ponder on.” In some of the more recent works, including A tree in Orange and Mortality’s Dark Heart, 2016 and Towards Canobolas and the Night Sky, 2016, there is a growing personal and philosophical dimension in these paintings. Mount Canobolas may suggest a specificity in setting, referring to a landmark outside the rural city of Orange, while the use of homemade charcoal has a personal dimension, but the darkness dwells on mortality, the artist’s own mortality as well as the sudden death of his son Thomas in September 2016 at the age of 32.
A swirling vortex, dark matter and dark energy, in the mind of the artist, become a reference to a personal darkness with a night sky lit up by a passing comet. These are brooding, lyrical paintings where the meditation on the landscape as dissected by time and space is also a meditation on an individual’s path through life and the darkness that surrounds him. In the final analysis, Michael Winters is an artist with a romantic temperament, a passionate philhellene, an independent spirit and a free thinker. I am reminded of Robert Lanza’s pronouncement1, “without consciousness, space and time are nothing”. Winters introduces a very human and artistic consciousness to use time and space as tools with which to carve up the landscape and universe and to lend to it a very personal and beautiful perspective. Emeritus Professor Sasha Grishin AM, FAHA (Endnotes) 1
Robert Lanza is a leading American scientist and philosopher who expands on ideas of time and space in his recent book Beyond Biocentrism: Rethinking Time, Space, Consciousness, and the Illusion of Death, 2016.
Michael Winters, If the Landscape Took Wing (details of work in progress), mixed media, 94x 118cm
Michael Winters: Dissected by Time & Space Orange Regional Gallery 14 October - 10 December 2017
149 Byng Street Orange NSW 2800 www.org.nsw.gov.au (02) 6393 8136 Open: 10am to 4pm daily. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day & Good Friday.