EVENING (FLOWERS FOR NANCY), 1993
synthetic polymer paint on canvas
244.0 x 305.0 cm
signed lower right: Storrier / 1993
Gene and Brian Sherman collection, Sydney
Tim Storrier, Sherman Galleries, 11 February – 12 March 1994 (illus., on cover of exhibition catalogue)
Elemental Reckoning: The art of Tim Storrier, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 11 November – 18 December 2011
Lumby, C., T Storrier: The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p. 134, pl. 101, (illus. and detail p. 135)
Since the auspicious start to his career as the youngest artist ever, at age 19, to win the prestigious Sulman Prize in 1968, Storrier has continued over the ensuing decades to attract widespread acclaim for his sublime, awe-inspiring evocations of the archetypal Australian landscape which, with blazing horizons and vast celestial skies, push figuration beyond naturalism into the realm of the hyper-real. Significantly, in 1994 he was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to the visual arts, and in 2012, he won both the Wynn Prize for The Dalliance 2012 and the Archibald Prize with his controversial faceless self-portrait The Histrionic Wayfarer (After Bosch), 2012 featuring himself as an explorer carrying artist’s tools across a scorched wasteland.
Yet all too often Storrier’s legacy has been critically misrepresented - simplistically categorised as 'landscape painting' within the Australian tradition of plein-air painters.1 Betraying a fundamental concern with the tension between the decorative and representational function of art, and the centuries-old dilemma of creating a pleasing image from repugnant subject matter – as he has famously mused, ‘How many crucifixions have been painted that look absolutely beautiful…’2 - his achievements would seem, rather, more aligned to European Romantic and Neoclassical predecessors such as David, Ingres, Casper Friedrich and Delacroix. Indeed, as powerfully attested by the present Evening (Flowers for Nancy), 1993, Storrier is a master of meticulously composed, psychologically allusive images which, though clearly derived from the natural world, nevertheless resonate with symbolic meaning and the artist's own deeply personal vision. Highlighting an enduring interest in the dichotomy between classical and romantic in his practice, between the disciplined order of a painting’s surface and the submerged, darker implications of his subject, thus the still life here is removed from any immediate domestic connotations and placed within a more dramatic 'stage set' where the metaphoric narrative may unfold.
As objects in their own right, the myriad of fragrant coloured blooms are palpable, sensuous and exquisitely beautiful to paint. Yet more poignantly, they also bear potent allegorical qualities – alluding to evolution, the passing of time and the grandeur of decay in the same vein as a traditional vanitas still life. Considering the present work one of Storrier’s ‘most surprising yet accomplished compositions’, author Catherine Lumby observes, ‘…an enormous dark brown canvas strewn with roses, the work is suffused with the scent of impending decay. Full-blown roses are juxtaposed with nubile blooms in a painstakingly balanced composition – the careful decorative mask of the surface is undercut by gathering gloom. The work hovers between the charming and the funereal. Like a bowl of flowers past their prime, it is at once a voluptuous and yet oppressive painting. The very subject matter of the work itself, of course, is poised on the same fault line…’3
Discussing the inspiration for Evening (Flowers for Nancy), Storrier notes with characteristic irreverence ‘…I can’t remember why I started painting them [flowers] except that it didn’t seem to be allowable. [He slips into his favourite pompous voice] ‘Oh no - you mustn’t paint flowers’…’4 And certainly, perhaps more explicitly than anywhere else in his oeuvre, Storrier would here seem to be confronting the critics who have repeatedly overlooked the tension between decoration and compositional complexity in his art. Disquietingly beautiful, the work encapsulates superbly the real power of Storrier’s unique vision; as Paul McGillick astutely elucidates, ‘…Tim Storrier’s art is about ambiguity and irony. It is never what it seems. Storrier’s critics have invariably been taken in by the surface charm of the work. What they have not appreciated…is the contradiction between Storrier’s pretty palette and the ugly, decaying and often violent imagery of the pictures.’5
1. Wright, W., Tim Storrier: Boys Own, exhibition catalogue, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 22 September – 14 October 2006, unpaginated
2. Storrier, T., cited in Hawley, J., ‘Tim Storrier’ in Encounters with Australian Artists, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1993, p. 154
3. Lumby, C., The Art of the Outsider, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000, p. 142 4. Storrier, T., cited ibid., p. 142
5. McGillick, P., ‘Culture shock for Paddo?’, Australian Financial Review, Sydney, 28 July 1989