Winning the Archibald Prize as Guy Maestri did in 2009 would be a defining moment in most artist’s careers, but he is quick to cite physical immersion in the landscape as revolutionary to his painting practice. It’s easy to gloss over the history of plein-air as a European tradition, born of gentle grasses and mild sunlight. Practiced in Australia, away from the slip of green coastline, plein-air demands rigor of vast dimensions. For Maestri, the material and temporal challenges of extended painting sessions in the hard country around Hill End, Wilcannia and Broken Hill has been instrumental in a new understanding of local art histories and ecologies, as well as the atmospheric and elemental qualities of landscape. Beholden to intimacies of place, the artist stakes out a subtle void or stillness in these dry landscapes without surrendering his animated, almost kinetic approach to paint.
Masquerading as a shady retreat, the studio retains its disciplinarian attitude but demands a different kind of focus. Here the void is more theatrical, Maestri’s compositions orchestrated with operatic tempo. Desiccated road-kill (the anti-trophy of inland highways) perform as contemporary Gothic vanitas, shot through with equal measure of beauty and pathos, the eye and the heart facing off.
A graduate of the National Art School, Maestri won the 2014 Kings School Art Prize and the 2013 Premier’s Plein Air Painting Prize. He is a regular finalist in the Wynne Prize for Landscape at the Art Gallery of NSW and his work is held in several public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery and Parliament House collections.