Soon after graduating from the National Art School, Dan Kyle set up home deep within the Australian bush at the foot of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. His paintings are translations of what he sees – the beauty, the unique forms, the colours – but also his way of reducing the density of the bush to a more approachable landscape for him to keep exploring. Back in Issue 32, 2015, Artist Profile chatted to Dan about the formal and conceptual nuances of his landscapes.
… old and boring? Yeah totally, I think that all the time.
What do you have to say about the Australian landscape that hasn’t been said before?
I think, lots. I find that with artists my age or around my age, it is important to establish yourself. I always think about this but I never know. I look at artists that I think have had the same love or interest, or have been as curious about landscape painting – Nolan and Albert Tucker are top of the charts for me. I sometimes think that the importance of it, in culture generally, the land never comes first. The land is always abused. I think that I am trying to preserve the beauty and the importance of the bush, or the natural landscape. I just think that you can reinterpret and you can make it totally yours. It is such an exciting subject, it’s endless and there is just so much. I would much rather see most of Australia than I would the rest of the world.
When you finished art school, you moved to where you now live, surrounded by the bush – you look out of your studio window and all you see is thick bush. What is it that you are interested in investigating in your paintings?
I’m pretty scared of the bush. I find the bush to be one of the scariest things. Nights in the bush can sometimes be really confronting and really scary. I can’t be out there at night by myself, my mind takes over and it is just the unknown.
There is something about just its natural compositions that you can find. I like looking out there, and seeing so much but the hardest thing to do is to pull out or eliminate stuff to get a relationship between two or three trees, or how they are leaning. I like a good lean.
My whole life is about the bush, and I think also I am pretty interested in, and sometimes obsessed with the history of Australian and Aboriginal cultures: the good and the bad, the mysterious, the people being able to live there.
You were showing me some sketches earlier … Take me through how you make a picture – how does it form? From where does the process begin?
I have a close friend up here – Charmaine Pike – and we go en plein air painting together, and it’s sort of just like you just sit there and you paint but you are not really painting. You are just there with good company, just chatting away and that is just purely something that I like doing. Because you do get to look more, I’m not doing what I do in the studio where you are thinking about the composition.
Are you transferring what you see in front of you?
Yes, more so outside than I do inside the studio. There is realness to outside, and there is a sort of manipulated landscape feel here [in the studio]. So, I just bring those sketches back into the studio, close the book and never look at them again.
So when you are in the landscape, sketching, are you looking at textures, colour or light? Or all of those things at any one time?
Light is always the most important. The exciting things happen in the afternoon and the mornings, I mean the middle of the day is kind of stark and boring but I think when I am out there and I am almost not even looking, it’s sort of just happening. It’s more just looking at the lean of trees and the way they are looking into each other; observing their pimples, bark or their bloody sappiness – just interesting things that you jot down.
When you come back into the studio, how do you start a painting, do you start with a decision that you are going to have a particular palette?
I do think about the palette but the vertical structures always go down first, and then just filling in. I always start with a lot of structure, and I then always eliminate it to calm it down a bit.
Are the structures trees?
They are trees and there is probably a horizon in there somewhere, but it usually gets covered up anyway. But there are always trees; I am always going up and down.
I can feel really claustrophobic in paintings – sometimes when there are more than four trees that’s too many, because the relationship I’m trying to achieve between them is too complex.
And so while your works are simple, they start with more complexity until you pare them back …
I don’t think the idea of them is simple but what you are left with is, sort of … I want to grab a calmness out of the bush – to create a slow lean and produce calm composition.
It’s a fascinating insight – you’re scared of the density of the bush yet can’t resist exploring it. Your paintings reduce the density of the bush as though it’s allowing your mind to step deeper into it and keep exploring …
Yes, I just want to keep stepping further into it, to keep learning from it and maybe get over my fear. There is a drive to get over that anxiety and to understand it more. I would love to be able to go out there in the middle of the night and do a slow walk. I can’t right now but I’ll get there. For now, I just want to keep going, keep painting and I want to do it slowly.
Dan Kyle: not rushing anywhere.
Yes, exactly! [laughs].