Wave action: Scott Gardiner’s ‘Night Swimming’ at Palmer Art Projects


Scott Gardiner: Night Swimming, exhibition install view, Palmer Art Projects, Sydney, 2017; image courtesy the artist and Palmer Art Projects, Sydney


I am told that Scott Gardiner is a keen surfer. His use of photographic images of waves as the base layer of his pictures does not immediately indicate this, but it does show his obsession with the ocean. In exhibitions and projects in both his country of birth, New Zealand, or here in Australia, where he is now based, the ocean imagery is asked to share the picture surface with a range of hard-edge abstractions. Pattern, geometry, a very strong personal use of colour and a delight with the surface play of acrylic mediums sit comfortably at odds with the photorealist underpainting, but more strongly with the lyricism suggested by the wave/ocean imagery. It has been a happy marriage.

But at Sydney’s Palmer Art Projects in his latest show, ‘Night Swimming’ (now in its final days, closing 20 May), something else is starting to happen. This is a show of changes, a transition show; the larger paintings continue with his use of a base layer of ocean/wave forms, and although there is a collaged aspect to them, they still constitute a field painted in sparse monochrome. The overpainting of strong coloured forms keeps the edges hard, but they are no longer straight; they squiggle and move, sliding in and out of the wave forms. Something is creeping into his painting.

A group of smaller paintings sees the relationship between the ocean underpainting and the forms that activate the surface shift significantly. Freed from the constraints of masking tape, the forms appear to be made with the hand alone. In the last of these, Waver 1, the photo-based wave imagery is gone, lost, subsumed, and the lyric intent represented in the past by the moving ocean now exists in the act of painting. Becoming a painter is the state of being a painter. You are never there, only ever heading towards it. Scott Gardiner in these new works continues his inventive, intuitive approach to making paintings; he continues on to ‘becoming a painter’, being a painter.


Tony Mighell, Sydney