Karl Maughan

ABOUT KARL MAUGHAN

Karl Maughan’s work is among the most readily identifiable in contemporary New Zealand art. First taking the garden as his subject while a student at Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts in the late 1980s, he has consistently explored the theme for the last twenty years. Maughan admits himself that, had he thought about it then, he would have expected his subject to change along the way. He has, however, found that it provides an endless source of inspiration and has no immediate intentions of abandoning it.

Maughan’s dedication to his subject has not prevented development in his work however. Having worked through the immersive views of rampant gardens that characterise his early work, Maughan stepped back in the mid-1990s to view the wider landscape. The sense of barely contained chaos that pervaded his early work has been supplanted by a sense of order emanating from carefully manicured lawns and shaped shrubbery. And while Maughan still paints on a large scale, the viewer is no longer thrust into the garden in quite the same way. In works of the last few years the foreground is again often dominated, now by Maughan’s characteristic rhododendron bushes full of flower, yet glimpses of sky and distant landscape are still evident.

The developments in Maughan’s use of paint both echo and reinforce this change. Surfaces thick with broad strokes of paint have given way to a less textured surface as paint is laid on in a more deliberate manner. The intensity of the paintings is however in no way lessened as the boldness and vibrancy of colour and colour combinations steps up a notch from the early works.

Maughan’s subject is the light and colour that the elements of the garden allow him to explore, rather than the garden itself. Initially, he worked en plein air, painting outdoors directly from specific gardens. Plein air painting has its difficulties however with changing light and the vagaries of the weather, and Maughan began working instead from photographs of gardens in his studio.

Extensively photographing gardens in New Zealand, Britain, and Europe, Maughan has built up a sizeable archive of images that allows him to freely manipulate elements to construct a garden or landscape that will convey the particular mood he seeks. He cuts up and collages photographs, in the process intensifying or changing colours and perspective to suit, thus asserting a control over nature that echoes that of the gardener or landscaper.

The end result is a painting that when viewed from a distance is almost photographic in its realism. Yet what we are inclined to take at face value as a depiction of reality is not necessarily ‘real’ at all. Elements from gardens as geographically removed as Taihape and Sissinghurst can appear in the one painting, and any evidence of disease and decay that is part of nature is eliminated.

Stand closer to one of Maughan’s paintings however and realism surrenders to abstraction as the image dissolves and brushstrokes and paint emerge to stand alone. Parallels can be drawn between Maughan’s application of paint and Impressionism in the laying of colours side by side that then blend in the viewer’s eye, and expressionism in the bravura application of thick swathes of paint that speak strongly of the process of painting. Maughan’s brushwork conveys also a joy and confidence in paint.

The ease and directness with which the viewer can emotionally connect with his work appeals to Maughan; the subject is one with which most viewers will have memories, associations and often day to day involvement. The emotions inherent in Maughan’s work are those of joy and wonder, emotions associated with lush gardens on sunny days.

Also of interest to Maughan are the varied narratives viewers create for themselves as they enter his paintings. A recurring motif in Maughan’s work is a path leading into the mid-ground, often curving behind the shrubbery, which offers both a visual way into the work and a departure point for the construction of narrative.

While realism and landscape painting have not be considered to be at the cutting edge of avant-garde practice for at least the last century, the subject provides Maughan with an ideal framework for his continued explorations of colour, light, texture and paint itself.

Nicola Jennings, A Clear Day, exhibition catalogue (Palmerston North: Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, 2008).

“I was born in Wellington and grew up in the Manawatu. My parents arrived there by accident to work on gardens with the landscape architect David Irvine. The accident was my father Bill coming off his motorcycle and getting a modest payout from ACC for his injuries. It was the early 70s so he chucked in his Treasury job in the morning and became a landscape gardener in the afternoon.

We rented a farm cottage near Colyton and my mother Lesley, and Bill both worked with David on garden projects around the Manawatu. I followed along on weekends and holidays, hanging out and sometimes helping. After the farm we rented a place in Palmerston North around the corner from the Manawatu Art Gallery (the Luit Beiringa years), then bought a cottage in Ashhurst in 1977, when I was thirteen. Lesley stayed on landscape gardening and Bill kept an interest, though he was now teaching at Massey, it being nearly the 80s and the lure of security and an institution too strong to resist. 72 Guildford Street was a huge weekend project for them both and I remember weeding, chainsawing and planting on a rotational basis.

After great encouragement from Freyberg High I moved to Auckland to attend Elam School of Fine Art. On a trip back to Ashhurst in 1986 I took 8 photographs of the garden at Guildford Street to finish a roll of film. (During the trip I’d been taking obscure landscape shots, the focus of my paintings to that point.) On developing the film I fell into the garden and used those 8 shots for two years. Several things came together. I started adding paint ‘alla prima’ – each day’s painting would be a completed part of the picture and the painting would piece together like a jigsaw. Now I background paint followed with layers of colour and shape and gradually build the work to the point where it just requires a little tweaking (this tweaking can go on for some time!).

The design and shape of gardens give me an interplay of light, colour and structure. The photos are a visual reference. I often collage several to make a composite image, and work against the compression of perspective. Working with gardens over twenty years has meant that parts of the garden I am drawn to have become not so much a subject for paint, as a language to make paintings with.”

Karl Maughan in Nicola Jennings, A Clear Day, exhibition catalogue (Palmerston North: Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, 2008)

Karl Maughan was born in Wellington in 1964 and grew up in the Manawatu, first living on a farm near Cloyton, then in Palmerston North, and finally in 1977 in Ashhurst. From Freyberg High School, Maughan went to Elam School of Fine Arts in 1983, graduating in 1986. In 1987 he decided to complete his master’s degree and had his first solo show at the Brooker Gallery, Wellington. Maughan moved in 1994 to London, where he married novelist Emily Perkins and where their three children were born. Maughan had several studios around the East End and his London successes included being a finalist in the 1997 John Moores biennial paintings prize at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, purchases by the Saatchi Collection and the Arts Council of England and, in 1999, the production of a six-panel work for display at a Habitat store, A clear day, which was later purchased by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Maughan returned to New Zealand in 2005 and currently lives and works in Wellington.

EDUCATION

1986
Bachelor of Fine Arts, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, Auckland

1987
Master of Fine Arts, Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, Auckland

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2016
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Halcombe, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Into the Woods, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2015
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Panorama, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Finnis Road, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2014
Woodland, Milford Galleries, Queenstown, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2013
Long View, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Arcadia, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2012
In Through the Outdoor, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Recent Works, Milford Galleries, Queenstown, New Zealand
Twenty-Seven Hundred Miles, Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, Australia

2011
Idlewild, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Oroua Valley, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2010
The Lost Path, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2009
New Paintings, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Everyday is like Sunday, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Blackbarn Gallery, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

2008
Karl Maughan, Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, Australia
New Paintings, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
New Works by Karl Maughan, Milford Galleries, Queenstown, New Zealand

2007
A Clear Day, Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Cross Hills, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand
Recent Paintings and Prints, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Paintings, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
New Paintings, Milford Galleries, Queenstown, New Zealand

2006
Outside, Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney, Australia
Karl Maughan, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2005
Kimbolton, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand
Inside the Garden, John Leech Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2004
Karl Maughan: Recent Paintings, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

2003
Park Lane, Vertigo Gallery, London, England
Blow Up, St Paul’s Gallery, Birmingham, England
The Visitor, Gow Langsford Gallery, Sydney, Australia
Walking in Light, Vertigo Gallery, London, England

2002
Garden Centre, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

2001
Art Lab, Imperial College, London, England

2000
Karl Maughan, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Art Hotel, Florence, Italy

1999
Crowd, Vynel Street, London, England
Karl Maughan, Habitat, London, England

1998
Karl Maughan: Landscapes, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

1997
Great Outdoors, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Karl Maughan, Brooker Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

1996
Day Night, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Love Lies Bleeding, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

1995
Green Triumph, Brooker Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2013
Parallel, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2012
Karl Maughan & Emily Wolfe, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

2008
Clock the Ton, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

2007
In Fluorescents, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

2006
Chosen, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2005
Karl Maughan, Jo Pegler and Emily Wolfe, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand
Frieze, Gow Langsford Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand
Recent Floral Works, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

2001
Parade, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand

1998
Saatchi Collection Catalogue Show, Saatchi Gallery, London, England
(Re)visioning the Real, Lopdell House Gallery, Auckland

1997
John Moores Liverpool Exhibition 20, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England
Under Growth, Holly St Studios, London, England
MNZA: Landscape, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

1996
NZ Real, Milford Galleries, Dunedin, New Zealand

1995
Blindfield, Coventry Gallery, London, England
Stop Making Sense, City Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand

SELECTED COLLECTIONS

Fletcher Trust Collection, Auckland, New Zealand
Saatchi & Saatchi, Wellington, New Zealand
Charles Saatchi Collection, London, England
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand
Te Manawa Museum of Art, History and Science, Palmerston North, New Zealand
The Suter Art Gallery, Nelson, New Zealand

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Warwick Brown, 100 New Zealand Paintings (Auckland: Godwit, 1995), p. 49.

Sarah Catherall, “Karl Maughan’s Language of Flowers,” Stuff, 2 February 2012, available here

Stacy Gregg, “The Flower and the Glory”, Sunday Star Times, 1 February 1998.

Nicola Jennings, On a Clear Day, exhibition catalogue (Palmerston North: Te  Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, 2008).

Lopdell House Gallery, (Re)visioning the Real, exhibition catalogue (Auckland: Lopdell House Gallery, 1998).

Milford Galleries, 3 Major Surveys – Modern New Zealand Art, exhibition catalogue (Dunedin: Milford Galleries, 1997).

Saatchi Gallery, The New Neurotic Realism, collection catalogue (London: Saatchi Gallery, 1998).

Jane Somerville, “New Work: Karl Maughan”, Artworld, no. 2, April-May 2008, pp. 144-147.

Joelle Thomson, “Into the Garden”, Mindfood, No. 2, May 2008, pp. 136-139.

Richard Wolfe, “Interflora: Karl Maughan Paints in the Face of Nature”, Art New Zealand, No. 97, Summer 2000, pp. 62-65.