Searching for Gaia Through Paint:
A Portrait of Australian Artist Guy Warren
by Sylvie Shaw
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.
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,
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.
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:
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).
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.
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.
‘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.
Guy Warren’s paintings, check the AXIA
Lynton N, McDonald J, Hart D, 2003, Searching for Gaia:
The Art of Guy Warren, Craftsman Press, Melbourne.
Shaw is a lecturer in Sociology at Monash University in