John Waller’s Sunburnt Country
How to enter into John Waller’s landscape based paintings, these visual distillations of the Australian scene? I have written on his compositions several times before, looking at his painterly technique; his use of geometry and planar space; his trips to remote locations in aircraft, erasing perspective by looking down from on high; his allusions to major artists and what he incorporates from the landscape tradition; his relations with certain Aboriginal artists; his environmental awareness. These are all subjects Waller raises if asked about his work, indeed, it’s worth chatting with him about how they will enter into a composition.
What has been overlooked is how Waller often refers nostalgically to aspects of a landscape he has encountered and felt a connection with. For him, a painting is a distillation of a remembered place, the composition summarising pictorially what the artist experienced there: the space, the terrain, the light, the textures, its atmosphere, the horizon, the heat, plus more. Due to his rural childhood, Waller especially identifies with certain forms of country, the recent paintings coming from his efforts at visual recall.
This particular exhibition immerses us in Waller’s personal memories of the landscape around Mildura in the early 1960s. Growing up in the Mallee, he still feels for that sun bleached, seemingly limitless country, feels deeply for her. These view paintings reverberate with sights and visual impressions lingering from his childhood. Due to his age the scale of things was different, seemingly larger and charged up. The land lacked those limits it took on in adulthood. Heat was inseparable from sunlight, of course, and with that the immensity of space, but over it all was the stillness, a dread stillness. How the intensity of the beating sun meant nothing moved outside. A noise might carry in from the distance—a crow’s cry, perhaps, or a diesel engine—but that intense light pinned things to the spot on the landscape. All was still; so the moments dragged out, stretching away like trees at the horizon, a line of dark blobs shimmering in hot haze.
The artist’s subject is not landscape, but the experience of feeling himself in it. He tackles this by using an elemental vocabulary of line, plane, tone and colour to set down different times of the day, different seasons, different places. A luminous slender bar conveys the distant sky. Scuffed paint denotes clouds coming in. Nervy lines read as fences. A fat tongue of ochre pigment is part of a rocky outcrop. So much is suggested. Dusty creek beds, vast paddocks of dried grass, a salt pan, even morning frost. In painting after painting, each of them a memory of a moment in the landscape, John Waller emphatically states his deep love of that wide brown land.
Confident, technically sophisticated, historically informed with an understated yet serene beauty, we see in these paintings all the indicators of a major landscapist in top form. One suspects this is because the subject is so personal. John Waller is working for himself here, tapping his memories of landscapes that formed his painter’s eye. No wonder these compositions offer such pleasure, which is surely the primary duty of art; a deep, sustaining, quite cosmopolitan visual pleasure. And that is why they succeed.
– Dr Christopher Heathcote
- Queenscliff Gallery 2023
- Queenscliff Gallery 2022
- Queenscliff Gallery 2021
- Artvisory Gallery South Yarra Victoria October 2018
- Red Sea Galleries Brisbane February 2016, October 2017
- Mossgreen Gallery Melbourne, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016
- Arthouse Gallery Sydney, 2010
- Peking University, November – December 2007
- Lyttleton Gallery, Melbourne, annually 1991 – 2006
- La Trobe University Art Museum, Melbourne, John Waller Artist in Residence, June – July 2001; John Waller: Recent Works, September – October 2004; John Waller: Artist in Residence, October – November 2005; Junction 2006: Recent Works by John Waller, Artist in Residence, November 2006 – February 2007
- Shepparton Art Gallery, Home Country: the Art of John Waller Artist in residence La Trobe University – Survey 1999-2003, June – July 2003
- Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre, Melbourne, Survey: John Waller 1990 – 2002, July – August 2002.
- Mildura Arts Centre, Mildura, May – June 2002
- The Essoign Club Gallery, Melbourne, 1986, 1990
- Rathdowne Street Gallery, Melbourne, 1988, 1989
- Glover Prize finalists’ exhibition 2021
- Queenscliff Gallery 2015 –
- Cox Architecture 2015
- Mossgreen Galleries, Melbourne Art Fair 2014
- Maroondah City Council Art Gallery, 2006 R & M McGivern Art Prize finalists, 6 July – 5 August 2006
- Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre, Melbourne, Common Ground, 19 May – 25 June 2006
- La Trobe University Art Museum, Abstract Interpretations of the Australian Landscape, May – June 2002; The Situation Now: A Survey of Local Non-Objective Art, 1995; Recent Acquisitions: selected works acquired in 2004/2005, 18 April – 26 May 2006.
- Bendigo Art Gallery, My Country, October – November 2005
- Bundoora Homestead Federation Centre for the Arts, Melbourne, North: Artists from the other side of the Yarra, June – July 2003; Site + Vision: La Trobe University Art Collection, July – September 2004
- Mildura Arts Centre, From the Fringe to the Centre, December 2002 – February 2003.
- Exhibition Selected Paintings, Prints and Drawings, February – March 2002
- Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, Melbourne, Saloon 2002 Abstract Painting: curated by Stephen Wickham, March – April 2002
- Albury Regional Arts Centre, NSW and La Trobe University Art Museum, Vic., Our Land Abounds – Selections from La Trobe University Art Collections, March and May 1998.
- Lyttleton Gallery, Melbourne, Audette, Lawson, Waller – New Paintings, 1992;
End of Year Exhibition, 1997; John Waller and Ronnie Jakamarra Lawson, May – June 2000
National Gallery of Victoria, Education Officer, 1973
Industrial Design Council of Australia, Melbourne. Education Officer 1974
Watsonia Technical School, Art Teacher 1976 – 79
St. Joseph’s Marist Brothers College, Creative & Performing Arts Coordinator 1979-89
Kakadu Resources Pty Ltd, Technical Consultant Aboriginal Artists 1989 – 90
Whitefriars College, Head of Faculty Visual and Performing Arts 1991 – 92
Box Hill College of TAFE 1992 – 95
Sacre Coeur, Head of Arts 1995 – 96
La Trobe University Artist in Residence1989 – 2004
The King David School, Head of Art 2004 – 07
Trinity Grammar School Kew, Head of Art 2008 –
Mildura Arts Centre, Victoria
Shepparton Art Gallery, Victoria
La Trobe University, Victoria
Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre, Victoria
City of Darebin Art Collection, Victoria
Alfred Hospital, Melbourne
Private collections – Australia, Italy, France, U.K., U.S.A.