Neil Frazer: Skyline (2022)
Neil Frazer's paintings depict the epic nature of New Zealand's terrain. Whether the subjects are mountains or ocean, we feel the image as much as see it, the artist's use of thick impasto celebrating the mass of rock, ice, or water.
Frazer's works are never timid. He places the subject's solidity front and centre, its three-dimensionality standing out against a white, textureless cipher of sky. This only serves to emphasise the thickness of the painted land and create tension between the real and the imaginary, the concrete and the intangible.
In Skyline Frazer concentrates on the bold triangular summits of the young mountains. The Southern Alps are a new phenomenon, the peaks still rugged and angular, not worn smooth by the aeons. The deep scored lines of the land come to the fore in images such as Rock Ridge and Double Cone, and the sheerness of the terrain is apparent in works like West Peak, with the rocky pinnacles jutting clear from steep slopes of pristine snow. The triangularity of the peaks allows the artist to experiment with composition, with a single sharp central form set against bold diagonals of rock and ice.
The mountains initially appear to be depicted using a severely limited palette of white, blue, and brown, but the land is fleshed out by a multitude of subtle variations of shade and tint that expose the artist's early abstract work. The rocky outcrops are outlined with painterly aplomb, and the blue and white of the snow are rendered in bravura gestural sweeps. A close inspection of the canvas suggests that the works are still at least in part gestural abstractions, and it is only when the paintings are viewed from a distance that the monumental terrain becomes not just apparent but dominating. At that instant, we feel surrounded and enclosed within the mountains, captured by the immediacy and immersed within the experience.
This physicality is at least in part a consequence of Frazer's painting regime. He travels to the site of his subjects, wrapping himself in the environment of the mountains. Back in the studio he paints quickly but surely, his vigorous attack of the canvas filling the works with energy. Ironically, there is a sense of contemplative calm in many of the pieces, but it is a calm underpinned by the tension and stresses of the untamed orogeny of the land.