Neil Frazer removes all human references from his seascapes; their imagery, form and execution evokes the extreme power of nature. For his fifth exhibition at Philip Bacon Galleries in Brisbane, Frazer has ventured away from the sites of previous landscapes in New Zealand, Tasmania, Antarctica, and Central Australia, exploring instead northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland.
“I often hire a boat, swim, climb and inevitably get wet. Sometimes the car gets stuck in sand or water in order for me to get to the places I want to paint, but when I visited these locations I was amazed at the wildness and beauty that exists so close to settlements along that part of the coast,” Frazer explains. “Paradise Caves in the Noosa National Park is just a short scramble from a busy beach and only accessible during low tide. I climbed down in the darkness before dawn, and waited for the early light to reveal the caves and archway rocks.”
These paintings are dynamic impressions of beach and coastline, where the force of the ocean meets the land. This intense energy is captured in thick impasto paint, the foaming swells of Paradise Point standing frothily proud of the surface, and this sculptural quality of paint reflects the physicality of Frazer’s process.
“I don’t paint en plein air. I prefer to be on the move, walking, climbing, swimming, feeling the energy and sometimes the pain of a physical challenge. I feel most reflective in nature,” says the artist. “In the studio, by comparison, I often struggle – it is a mental battle. The paint builds as the work comes to life. Paint is fluid, so is movement. I use all manner of tools to paint, anything that comes to hand in order to describe rock, wave and shadow.”
Frazer’s research on these sites, using maps and aerial views, assists him to identify the places that interest him geologically and geographically. “Time and tide shape our world,” he says. “I leave out all human references to accentuate the primacy of the natural world – rocks along a coastline are in a constant state of change as they are eroded by the elements. The sea is ever changing and dangerous; my paintings are about experiencing these elements.”
Born in Canberra, Frazer studied in New Zealand, New York and Sydney. For the first 20 years of his career he worked as an abstract painter, with a shift, some 15 years ago, into landscape. Atmospheric paintings however, continues to interest him, as does the sublime romantic tradition, as these paintings describe landscape as a psychological battleground.
“I have always been attracted to gestural abstraction and figuration in equal measure. By moving towards figuration I expanded the possibilities – it felt like I was adding a plot to a story that was already there.”
For Frazer, “Painting is always a challenge – I paint every day that I don’t travel. I paint quite quickly and energetically, but destroy most works before completion. Generally, after a hell of a lot of battling, I get to a point with a series of works where I know the way forward. That is the best part of the process.”
In his new coastal landscapes, Frazer engages with new marks and techniques which seem to explode with the energy of the places that inspired them.
Philip Bacon Galleries is currently open, with social distancing and hygiene measures in place.