16/02/2023 - 14/03/2023
“The longer you sit in one remote spot in the bush, the more you become part of it,” Celia Perceval explains. “The landscape really does have a meaning, a character. It speaks to you. Everything is truly alive. Everything has its place.” Perceval is describing her painting process. It is a process that takes her out of the comforts and the confines of an air conditioned artist’s studio, and instead places her in the midst of the Australian landscape. For decades, Perceval has ventured out into the bush in search of the ineffable—looking for an unnameable something in the wilderness. “I’m always going off the main thoroughfares into places where it looks like I can’t,’ she says. “There is no other way of finding inspiration, other than being there.” Perceval pauses before going on. “I walk past something that speaks to me. I won’t say anything to anyone, but I always know that I’m going to go back there.”
There is, of course, an established tradition of landscape painters going out into nature and painting en plein air. Yet this tradition often tends to be based around acts of artistic control: the attempt to arrest some small part of the natural world—to freeze it—and to transfer this frozen image onto the canvas. Perceval’s paintings could not be more different. Her process is less about taking control, and more about relinquishing this very thing. “We change the landscape too much,” she says. “I feel like I’m painting what’s left of that landscape. I wish we could just be part of it.” Perceval’s work draws her out of the built up environment of the city and manicured lawns of the suburbs to a wilderness, where the disorder of nature still prevails.
Yet Perceval’s paintings do more than just memorialise a vision of place. While most people think of a painting in purely ocular terms—they focus on what they can see—Perceval reaches beyond this. When she talks of her paintings, Perceval evokes a multisensory experience. Her kinetic brushstrokes are animated by sounds and smells and filled with the unmistakable sense of life in motion. Her paintings reproduce some part of what it means not only to look at a place but become a part of it. “I always think that a good painting should never just be seen once,” she observes. “It should always draw you in and reveal something new. Just like the landscape itself.”
By Tai Mitsuji, January, 2023