Rhododendrons: Karl Maughan

6 December 2023 - 13 January 2024 Kitchener Street
Overview
Rather than being simple photographic recreations, the images in his paintings are complex hybrids. Elements move between images, shots of pathways from one photograph merge with flowers from another, aspects of his mother’s garden combine with water from a lakeside vista. This editing and combining happens on the canvas as much as in the digital images themselves.

Karl Maughan is one of New Zealand’s best-known artists. His mesmerising gardenscape paintings are distinctive and enchanting, presenting lush garden vistas in lucid detail and sumptuous colour. He is well-regarded for his distinctive and masterful paint handling, weaving together imagery from vigorous brush marks and generously applied paint. The vibrant colour and alluring appearance of flowers has drawn Maughan to keep working with them as his subject matter for many years.

Maughan’s artistic process involves frequent visits to the gardens of friends and family members, and sometimes public environments. He takes numerous photographs, capturing different angles and compositions of garden vistas that appeal to him. In the past, Maughan has reworked his source material through physical collaging of photographic prints. “It’s easier to take photographs than to make paintings,” he says. “Film photography is quite different to digital. I used to work with conventional photography and be quite sparing in the shots I took. The nature of digital photography now means that it’s possible to take almost limitless numbers of photos on your phone. Though only a few can become paintings.” Those that do get translated into paint are almost invariably altered in the process. “Composition and colour work differently in photos than in paintings. There’s a balancing process. I’ll sit in the studio and look at what’s going on with the works, fine tuning the painted image. Sometimes the photo reference is not quite how I want it, so I launch into it and set it right in the painting,” he says.

Works
Installation Views
Press release

“The gardens are like musical compositions - both the score and the thing played - with their upward and downward inflections, stops and starts, repetitions and transitions, their points of confluence and dispersal.” [1] - Gregory O’Brien

Karl Maughan is one of New Zealand’s best-known artists. His mesmerising gardenscape paintings are distinctive and enchanting, presenting lush garden vistas in lucid detail and sumptuous colour. He is well-regarded for his distinctive and masterful paint handling, weaving together imagery from vigorous brush marks and generously applied paint. The vibrant colour and alluring appearance of flowers has drawn Maughan to keep working with them as his subject matter for many years.

Maughan’s artistic process involves frequent visits to the gardens of friends and family members, and sometimes public environments. He takes numerous photographs, capturing different angles and compositions of garden vistas that appeal to him. In the past, Maughan has reworked his source material through physical collaging of photographic prints. “It’s easier to take photographs than to make paintings,” he says. “Film photography is quite different to digital. I used to work with conventional photography and be quite sparing in the shots I took. The nature of digital photography now means that it’s possible to take almost limitless numbers of photos on your phone. Though only a few can become paintings.” Those that do get translated into paint are almost invariably altered in the process. “Composition and colour work differently in photos than in paintings. There’s a balancing process. I’ll sit in the studio and look at what’s going on with the works, fine tuning the painted image. Sometimes the photo reference is not quite how I want it, so I launch into it and set it right in the painting,” he says.

This process of documenting, selecting, and editing inevitably has an effect on the work. Rather than being simple photographic recreations, the images in his paintings are complex hybrids. Elements move between images, shots of pathways from one photograph merge with flowers from another, aspects of his mother’s garden combine with water from a lakeside vista. This editing and combining happens on the canvas as much as in the digital images themselves.

On Maughan’s approach to painting, writer and curator Gregory O’Brien has stated, “Truth and accuracy are far less of a concern than phrasing, rhythm, pitch and timbre. 'You're not responsible for the veracity of what you are painting,' he notes. 'The painting is its own thing.' Close up, the works record sweeps and stabs of the paintbrush, and an at times feverish impasto. The realism seemingly evident from a distance dissolves the closer you get.” [2] It is in this close up dissolution into gesture and materiality that the brilliance of Maughan is laid bare. His carefully balanced garden images are meditations on the mechanics of paint. O’Brien summarises it so, “[…] in Karl's mind, his canvases are first and foremost paeans to paint, brush, canvas and the labour of their making.” [3]

Colour is a vital aspect of Maughan’s work. He employs dazzling hues from across the spectrum, often using palettes that read as warm and rich while carefully balancing light and shadow. So deft is his treatment of paint that these nuanced colour profiles appear seamless, even when featuring vibrant tones. Maughan states, “I’ve gone for supersaturated colours a lot in the past. That’s great, but I don’t want it to be over the top. This time around, I’ve used hues that are closer to the source, taken from leaves and trees, along with flowers of course.” In the past, Maughan has combined flowers from many different plants in his images, whereas the paintings in Rhododendrons all feature the titular flower exclusively. “The colours are pretty powerful without any exaggeration,” he says.

During the process of making the works, Maughan will spend time in the studio sitting and studying his paintings, seeking harmony. He is methodical in his process, bringing the gardenscapes into being through tireless hours of paint layering, looking, analysing, and refining. The results are spectacular, easy to appreciate for their vibrancy and subject matter, though also satisfying on a more subtle level, as meditations on painting and the nature of image.

[1] Gregory O’Brien, “Florescence: Notes from the Studio” in Karl Maughan, Gabriella Stead and Hannah Valentine, editors (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2020). Pp 145-158.Page 153.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.

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