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Margaret Shields

The Light's the Thing

A Review of New Horizons - Paintings by Denis Brockie

"New Horizons" is a delight. It revels in paint.  It is an essay in paint, exploring texture, colour, line, perspective. It plays with genre, representation merging into the abstract.  And by juxtaposing country with coast, Brockie questions our perceptions of both. I believe the thread weaving through all of this is light. Brockie's play with light informs his abstracts, and it is the subtlety of light, as much as the excitement of the textures, that distinguish inland from shore.

 "It's all about the light," said Denis, when I broached the subject. Now, that's what a photographer usually says - after all, a photograph is in essence a trick of the light. But light is far more than a trick of the paint in Brockie's current exhibition; it is fundamental to ways of seeing, to ways of painting, to ways of experiencing the world.

 When I see a new show from an artist, I look for a few things: have style, technique and skill developed? Has subject matter changed? The answers here are yes, yes, yes and yes. Brockie's previous exhibitions have focused on the coast, the Stradbroke Island coast in particular. But Brockie now lives a dual life, moving from coast to inland, and his paintings reflect the duality.

The light, and the way the light allows us to see the landscape, is different and revealing. Abstraction grew out of artists' understanding of the way light fell in planes, breaking up the illusion of our perceived reality.  In this exhibition, Brockie's abstracts are the bridge that links country and coast. They arise from an imagination unfettered by the usual limits of form, and which reaches into the artist's unconscious response to the world around him.

In the painting, Cunningham's Gap & the Escarpment, we see a world tamed. It is beautiful, it is serene, it is controlled. Though no people appear in the frame, the mark of man is upon the land: it has been cleared and managed. Compare it with any of the coast paintings: the sea, the sand are beyond human control. Even when the sea is calm, we are aware of its wild potential. Even when there are tyre tracks in the sand, the wind and waves are fast obscuring them.

But there is still, even in the tidy country landscape, a sense of brooding mystery; and it's there in the sea too. The abstracts express this mystery in pure form.

In some of Brockie's representational paintings, there is a tendency to abstraction in the sand and rocks. Brockies keen eye has seen the way the light slants and breaks up surfaces into planes and angles. It's a very gentle challenge to representational art as the most valid way of representing the world, as a way that, perhaps, simply isn't enough. 

For those of us who have forged a deep relationship with Stradbroke Island, encountering Brockie's Island paintings is like meeting old friends. Flinders Overflow, for instance, with its reflections in the stillness, captures a moment of experience we can all recall in a deliciously nostalgic, "Oh, I remember seeing it like that," way. Its detail is true, yet it's not photo realism (suggestions of abstractions have crept in): the ultimate truth is in the feeling and that is what the viewer responds to.

The broader horizons of this new work, the Granite Belt and Cunningham's Gap paintings, have enriched Brockie's oeuvre considerably, in their own right as well as complementing and contrasting with sea and coast.   They demonstrate the artist's versatility in paint, form and subject. They add to our delight.

Margaret Shields, Lecturer (retired) Queensland College of Art Griffith University.


Untitled - 2015NH23                             101 x 101cm Acrylic on Linen

Dr Anthony White                                                                     Richard Blundell