FORMAL ROOTS - NEAL PALMER


Neal Palmer & John Parker   8 August - 4 September 2021

"My latest show exploring the forms of magnolia trees in bloom is rooted in a modernist tradition of simplified compositional structures. Underlying structures like the grid/lattice are often used in geometric abstraction, a style of painting I’m particularly attracted to. While I design my paintings as if they are geometric abstractions, I choose to create images that represent the complexities of the real world, the textures and organic quirks and blemishes that I feel hold the true beauty in nature.  In an art historical sense, perhaps completing a natural cycle, returning to the beginning of modernism in some small way, inverting the work of many artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Mondrian who have drawn on the natural world to produce abstract paintings.

Like roots, there are other filaments that feed this base structure. For instance, I work from photographs I’ve taken while walking and running and thinking. I have become fascinated with the language of photography and how that relates to painting, not necessarily in a photorealist manner, more the effects of light as seen through the lens of a camera. How you can manipulate effects like lens flare and depth of field in very painterly ways to create images that feel real as such but are essentially expressive mark making.

Another deeply rooted aspect of the show is a personal love of the magnolia tree, particularly the deciduous varieties when they are in bloom, their flowers growing before the leaves come out. A combination of the criss-crossing branches and the large velvety blooms breaking the lattices up, works well for me compositionally. I have been taking pictures of magnolias for over 20 years, one of my favourites is in London at Saint Patrick’s church near the Royal Academy of Art. They have followed me here on an emotional level, having also fallen in love with many native plants of Aotearoa the magnolia has come to represent the idea of successful migration, my own, and more generally a symbol of diverse communities putting down roots.  It’s a positive spin on relocation in a modern context, not to be confused with the injustices of the colonial era and the complications involved with that. Questions of native vs exotic are an interesting aspect of botanical subjects with many discussions and disagreements over clearing and planting policies.

 Plant classification was invented by Pierre Magnol who is the magnolia genus’s namesake. As a genus magnolias have been around for 20 million years and predate bee pollination, their stamens are especially robust to protect them from the beetles they evolved to be pollinated by. Magnolias’ direct ancestors evolved 60 million years ago, fossils of which have been found in Aotearoa though obviously they didn’t evolve into magnolias here. They are native to Asia and the Americas including the Caribbean having died out in Europe during the ice age. Since Europeans first started transplanting them in 1703 they have become popular in gardens and parks worldwide."

 - Neal Palmer 2021

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