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Searching for Gaia Through Paint:
A Portrait of Australian Artist Guy Warren

by Sylvie Shaw


Walking past the AXIA art gallery in inner Melbourne I was drawn by large multi-hued paintings covering the plain white walls. There was an essence which enveloped me, excited and delighted my senses, not only the visual. It reflected the colours of the Australian naturescape, and enmeshed me with feelings of human wrapped within nature and ecological processes.

The artist, Guy Warren, now in his eighties, spins away the dichotomy prevalent in many landscape paintings which excludes humans from the picture. In contrast, Warren weaves the human-nature continuum as one foundation of his art. And yet, the human is often a shadowy reflection flicked in colour, indeterminate from the abstracted water and land forms. Deborah Hart, Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia writes that Warren’s work is imbued with ‘mythology, memory and personal experience’ based on his philosophy and practice which ‘reminds us …to tread lightly and think deeply about our relationship with the natural world that we share’ (Lynton, McDonald, Hart, 2003:33).

This notion of respectful interconnectivity is represented within the dynamic visual language of colour. It emerges out of his knowing, out of creating relationship with places. The art, while the ‘outcome’ hangs on the wall, is the result of on-going process, a reciprocal process of understanding and awareness of the delicate intricacy of ecosystems. Aesthetic meets ecological, personal experience is embedded and re-memoried in stories of place as his paintings lead us to contemplate our own connections and stories with local places and wild spaces.

Slithering in water, the figure in Warren’s whimsical ‘Tide Up’, depicts a person, lying along the littoral zone with an image of three tri-branched mangroves beyond. An edgey place, the mangroves globally breathe the tides. In these swampy environments, through the exchange of fresh and salt water, new life intermingles and flourishes. But all over the world mangroves are under threat from development, fishfarms, and global warming. Yet here in the ecotone of Warren’s art, in the vibrant place where two ecosytems meet and interact, creativity and fecundity pervade as metaphor. About the inspiration of his art Warren comments:

An interest in landscape and environment may not be seen as being of prime concern for those working at the cutting edge of art, but issues of identity frequently are. Yet the issue of identity and how that relates to the environment at large – how we relate to and use the land - could well be one of the most important issues of our time (Lynton, McDonald, Hart, 2003:185).

The book celebrating Guy Warren’s life and work is called ‘Searching for Gaia’. But through his painting and other artworks over his life, executed in different styles and mediums, he has located himself amidst the Earth Goddess, and seems to relish this relationship. His understanding of the fragility of the arid Australian landscape is not only represented though his art, but also through his earth-connected practice. He lives within acres of rainforest, tends a wild garden, and finds solace in creating and exploring pristine places and places that are home to human and other-than-human. His art sacralises this relationship between person and planet. It is at times spare, at other times myriad tonal shifts float through the gallery, while slivers of light and darkness enter the works, vibrating and radiating the canvasses with luminosity. They are luscious visceral works that remind me of Hundertwasser’s illuminated (and illuminating) artworks of human earthed among mystical landscapes.

Guy Warren’s artwork is inspirational. Through bright flashes, textures, and chromatic effects, his visual spaces flow from wall to awaken my senses and memories. They act on the physiological and penetrate the psyche so the observer engages not only with the artistic representation but with the essence of Warren himself. With depth and deftness the art speaks of ritual connectivity and enchantment with boundary places and edge spaces.

Reading ‘Searching for Gaia’ opened up one man’s life and work. It spoke of the experiences that inform his work, growing up, being immersed in new art movements in Australia and overseas, becoming a soldier in the second world war, his explorations of the Australian bush, but it’s in the works themselves that his search for Gaia is celebrated. From the mythical figure of Icarus and his own imagined ‘the Winged man’, to the impressionistic vividry of nature, the confluence of human as nature and Gaia herself become one.

To view Guy Warren’s paintings, check the AXIA gallery website:

Reference cited:
Lynton N, McDonald J, Hart D, 2003, Searching for Gaia: The Art of Guy Warren, Craftsman Press, Melbourne.


Sylvie Shaw is a lecturer in Sociology at Monash University in Australia.

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