Exhibition review: Spirit of the Landscape

A partnership between the Plein Air Down Under outdoor painting festival and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (Western Region), featuring the artwork of 21 award winning Australian and International artists.

The Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) and Plein Air Down Under outdoor painting festival
have partnered to present The RFDS Spirit of the Landscape Art Exhibition, currently on
display at the Alcoa Mandurah Art Gallery. This stunning exhibition, coordinated by Judith
Darlington and curated by James Walker, pulls the audience into an array of breathtaking
landscapes via an exceptional selection of internationally recognised artists.

Plein air artists don’t just paint scenes, they paint moments, feelings, and atmospheres. They tell visual stories through immersion in place and time. Landscape painting enables artists to translate emotion and impression into their art. The RFDS has been saving lives across our country for almost a century, and many of these emergency rescues occur in the harshest of landscapes. The visual storytelling of plein air painters reminds us of the sheer vastness of the Australian landscape

Sometimes, this means eerie isolation, potential danger, and echoes of the sublime. Other times this means camaraderie, intensity; the certainty of a sunset or the chill of a shadowed stream. Plein air art can function as a window depicting place, space, mood, and movement. Time-related constraints such as the changing of light, the drying of paint, and the shifting of shadows provide elements of challenge even on the smallest scale, making large scale artworks all the more impressive.

Leon Holmes, internationally award-winning plein air artist who specialises in the medium of
oil, has six pieces exhibited in this exhibition, ranging in size from a modest 20 x 40cm (Great Southern Impression) to an expansive 60 x 180cm (The Aviators). The Aviators; a layered Australian landscape alive with pink and grey galahs, boasts impressive depth, detail, and motion.

However, it is Holmes’ Gascoyne Gums (oil on canvas) that sparked the most interest at the opening event, and not just for its size. The warmth of colour – and illusion of depth – 
exuding from the iconically Australian red-dirt-and-gum-trees scene dares the viewer to step inside this inviting painted world.

Jos Coufreur’s similarly large scale acrylic works – Gum Tree Forest, Boab Trees, and The Boab 6 – capture the eye with bold colour and energetic motion. Coufreur’s distinctive style could easily be described as vibrant realistic expressionism, fitting despite the apparent semantic contradiction. At just over two metres long, Coufreur’s bright Boab Trees dominates the space in a dramatic depiction of outback Australia, scraped and splattered across the canvas in electric layers of contrasting colour.

Tiffanie Mang’s gouache paintings are tiny by comparison, but are equally as arresting in their own right, particularly her 15 x 30 cm landscape, Steadfast, which depicts the rushing white-water of a rocky creek, edged with native trees. Mang, who works as a visual development artist at Marvel Studios, says it represents the RFDS workers who, in times of turbulence, are the rocks we rely on.

Nearby, Leanne Pearson’s captivating paintings utilise colour, perspective, and confident
brushstrokes to capture light, motion, and mood. Pearson, who works mainly in oils and is
known for her portraits, is almost (but not quite) unique for her inclusion of the human form in two of her exhibited artworks; Derby Rodeo Adrenaline and Early Morning Light Yallingup.

Leon Holmes’ The Aviators. Photo from the artist.

Corrine Rapley’s Seagulls at Skeleton Beach, Coral Bay (oil on canvas) is breathtaking for its
use of colour, but it’s the texture and perception of motion that makes this work stand out
amongst such high calibre company. Other exhibition highlights include James Walker’s
Expanse (acrylic on canvas), Brendon Darby’s Dusk on Fire – Kimberly (oil on acrylic on
canvas) and Warwick Fuller’s Sultry Morning Light, Silverton (oil), all of which inspire awe for
their technical skill alone; each of which has captured an essence no photograph could hope to contain.

Cohesion and distinction are often seen as mutually exclusive properties, but the diversity and range of the art exhibited here is unaffected by the similarities inherent in sharing a common format. Every artist in this invitational exhibition is a previous award winner of Plein Air Down Under; an internationally recognised outdoor painting festival, held annually in Australia.

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Together, these artworks direct the imagination towards the valuable role played by the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Very few of these paintings feature literal planes, but impressions of flight and movement feature heavily throughout. Expertly executed and beautifully curated, this exhibition is a rare visual treat.

The RFDS Spirit of the Landscape Art Exhibition
Alcoa Mandurah Art Gallery, WA
Curator: James Walker
Exhibiting Artists: Warwick Fuller, Brendon Darby, Tiffanie Mang, Leon Holmes, Corrine
Rapley, Cass Gartner, Di Bramley, Darren Willans, Christine Martin, Gayle Bukey, James
Walker, Leanne Pearson, Susan Swain, Tiffany Forster, Sue Hibbert, Val Brooks, Dave Conlin, Deborah Zibah, Andy Dolphin, Gordon Alexander and Jos Coufreur

Free admission

Spirit of the Landscape will be on display until 6 October 2022.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.