Steve Lopes’s ongoing preoccupation with how the human figure interacts with landscape can be put down to his upbringing. The son of Italian migrants, Lopes explores how cultural and psychological identity can evolve and expand in an Australian environment, with its “intensity of colour and light”, as he puts it.
“My interest in these ideas most probably stems from my ethnic background and growing up in a multicultural environment, which provided me with strong subject matter and, I guess, a sense of the outsider,” says Sydney-born and based Lopes. “My paintings touch on aspects associated with assimilation into new territories, community, and the individual adapting and coping with the constantly changing world.”
Encountered is an all-encompassing survey that covers Lopes’s work between 1997 and 2021. As well as his elegant and mysterious paintings, the show features drawings, prints, collages, diaries and more. Reflecting his devotion to those “new territories”, recent works such as Uncommon Figures and Dogs of the Neighbourhood, both 2020, were created after he spent time in urban and remote regions of the Northern Territory.
“They’re inspired by stories of discovery, new and old histories, and the ideas that develop from the melting pot of disparate peoples, communities and languages within our own land.”
Lopes speaks of the influence of the “sharpness of delineation” in Sidney Nolan’s work, as well as the “immediacy” of Euan Macleod’s paintings. His aesthetic, though, is distinctively his own: with Encountered there is a deeply felt meditation on the human occupation of place and space, in all its diversity and drama. “I’m always trying to explore and investigate the strangeness of space—and the idea of ‘otherness’. Place a figure in a landscape and you instantly start a narrative and begin to describe the ways we see each other.”
This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.