Dean Home: White Clouds in my Garden

21 September - 7 October 2023
Exhibition Text

A new presentation of paintings by Dean Home is always an occasion to anticipate and relish; his artistic process and output renowned for being slow and meticulous. With this lyrical exhibition ‘White Clouds in my Garden’, the artist again revels in the sensory world, which is as fundamental to his world view as air and water. This distinguished painter is inspired by sensual beauty in both art and life. Whether it be savouring a French wine, listening to a Bach concerto or contemplating a Chinese poem, the artist could be considered a true aesthete and synesthete. A master of the still life genre, Home is renowned for his luxuriant yet delicate floral compositions, but he certainly does not regard himself simply as a ‘flower painter’.


The artist’s foremost inspirations come from both East and West, drawing upon influences as varied as Italian baroque painting and ancient Chinese ceramics. His artistic tableaux have regularly been described as ‘super-real’, but rather they offer a heightened experience of still life, that seems to embrace all the senses. Featuring arrangements of luminous flowers in bloom - his most recent passion being peonies - these opulent compositions often include fine fabrics, stones, shells and other items that enhance the sensory pleasure of the painting. The viewer can almost touch the silken fabric, the cool, polished surface of a Chinese bowl, or the soft touch of the slightly faded flower petals. Through these tactile means Home reinvigorates the still life genre.


Like Giorgio Morandi and his painting process Home is very select in his groupings of objects for a still life. Each object needs to hold some personal or metaphoric meaning for him. Like visual meditations, the paintings allude to ‘tactile time’. The ancient porcelain references materials that endure over time, but can be weathered, cracked and worn, while the flowers - just past their moment of bloom - reveal the ephemeral nature of organic matter and the transient nature of life.


Originally from Busselton in WA, Home studied at Curtin University in Perth, graduating in 1981 as a figurative painter. After nearly two decades of practice and approaching 40, the artist, having relocated to Melbourne, felt he still had not found a genre that fitted his style and vision. Then a trip to Rome altered his entire practice. Visiting the Villa Borghese gallery, he came across the Caravaggio painting Boy with a Basket of Fruit. He found his attention focused not on the central figure of the boy, but on the arrangement of fruit instead. This simple impromptu decision changed his trajectory from painting the figure to painting still life. It was a sage move as the painter has now over fifty solo exhibitions to his credit and is represented in major state, regional and private collections both in Australia and overseas.


For close to two decades, the artist has collected antique Chinese vessels at various auctions in Melbourne. He somehow perceives that the essence or spirit of these age-old bowls transmits itself to him and influences his aesthetic choices. Their forms inspire his new creations, however he decorates these wares with the landscapes of his imagination. His layered works therefore operate as landscape paintings within a still life genre. These ‘invented’ landscapes come from his imaginings of Southern Asian vistas and primarily feature mountains and water, traditionally seen as a source of spiritual power and wisdom.


In his work, The Roar of Water, the artist literally paints a waterfall running off one object and then onto another, until it becomes a river, then a gentle stream flowing onto a simple cup ornamented with a small pond holding two goldfish. In the painting, On the Path Home, a pair of timeworn enamel Chinese tea caddies from the early 1800s are adorned with a winding pathway leading to a small house, representing a kind of spiritual journey back to the small town of his Western Australian childhood.


Home’s process is long and painstaking. He comments that even the smallest of his paintings must contain a delicate poetic matrix. The magic for Home lies in an alchemical process, in which a warm dark layer of paint is applied, then scraped back until an enigmatic quality is achieved that adds a resonant depth to the image. Home remarks that: “I often say to people, ‘It moves the whole painting from talking to singing’.”


This ‘chiaroscuro’ effect also enriches the drama and theatrical element of the composition. Drawing on Chinese landscape aesthetics, oriental motifs and baroque drama, Home has found his own unique vision that is both classical and contemporary, spiritual and sensual. He sees his works as short, assembled visual poems. It is in the delicate calibration of his painted objects that a kind of universal knowledge, harmony or wisdom resides.


Home has a great affection for Rome, where he is a regular visitor. He is strongly animated by the vitality of Italian life, whereas Chinese art and poetry seems to still his mind. Perhaps it is this combination of stillness and vivacity that makes his works so visually compelling. These carefully curated images have grown simpler and quieter over time. His colour palette is more muted with this current series, revealing a new found pensiveness and reflection, that could be related to the passage of time and the recent loss of a parent. The artist adds: “The pensiveness of looking back in time, at when you were beautiful or when the world was young and available, there's this sensation of time and transition.”


These ‘visual poems’ present a fine balance between the eternal and the ephemeral, earthly beauty and spiritual transcendence. The works escalate beyond the real, becoming meditations on the transition of time and the universal connection of art and nature. Now at age 61, one can only envision that Dean Home’s deep, contemplative art practice will likely grow richer and more meaningful in time to come. – Victoria Hynes, Arts Editor & Writer

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