Hayley Megan French paints landscapes that express, via abstraction and minimalism, a connection to place. “The paintings,” she explains, “are about the perspectives we carry about landscapes, not a specific place.” The group of square and rectangular canvases in Against the sky are painted over the top of French’s old canvases.
It’s a personal, psychological painting – old perspectives are washed over but partially inform the new layers. French’s work continues to develop towards a reduction of form. Gone are the orange and white peaks reminiscent of the domed summits found in the Purnulu National Park, and other floating or emergent forms overlayed on black, of two years ago.
In 2015, French undertook PhD research into the ways in which Aboriginal art informs and influences Australian landscape painting. How did that research feed back into her practice? French says that it enabled her to acknowledge her own context and worldviews: “I could see where they came from and the way they inform how I see and think about landscape and also much wider social constructs in Australia.”
French will also present pairs of photographs that have been painted over, much like the canvases. These are a distillation of the 5000 photographs she took on a research trip from the Northern Territory to Broome and then down to Perth. In her studio in Western Sydney, French works from sketches and photographs to extract the memories and impressions of her frequent travels to the outback. These are filtered through her urban, lived experience rather than an attempt to dutifully recreate place. In June this year she will, quite gladly, return to Central Australia for a residency.