By Richard Birmingham
Dr Mark Dober's exceptional lecture on November 10, discussed the practice of painting outside or En Plein Air. While the practice has been around for a long time, it first became a recognised movement with the Barbizon school around the early to mid-1800’s in north central France. Its practitioners were artists like Rousseau, Corot, and Jean-Francois Millet. The 1860’s saw the technique further developed by the French impressionists then perfected in the work of Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gough. Painting directly outdoors in the French manner had world -wide repercussions. It influenced our own Heidelberg School and the Californian Colourists in the early 1900’s.
This painting tradition informed Fred Williams and continues today with artists like Mark Dober and Mary Tonkin. Mark Dober had his first solo exhibition at Gertrude Street in the mid 90’s, a portrait show. It was here that his work came to the notice of Robert Nelson The Age art critic who gave the exhibition a favourable review. Mark also had several exhibitions at Goya Galleries in the late 90’s. His work at this time favoured pastoral scenes often depicting cows in various droll poses, some sitting and some just chewing. Each one had been painted outside.
Mark’s Studio was outside and his paintings convey the immediacy of being on the spot. It is here the practiced eye can see a vast difference between painting and drawing made in response to something experienced and felt compared to work based on memory or photographic reference. Nature has a life force and a movement energy which artists pick up on. Just being there means the subject is experienced first-hand. This connection between artist and subject becomes a catalyst enabling paint and canvas to come alive as real time experience. This mysterious transformation is why we paint and it just cannot happen when only photographic reference or memory is used.
Copying from a photograph amounts to a second hand experience and it always shows in the work. Mark’s paintings are true and beautifully coloured, his observed forms and spaces distil into elegant and convincing shorthand. His colour is chromatic rather than tonal and the harmonies achieved demonstrate a combination of local, heightened and sometimes invented colour. His work today continues the Plein Air tradition which values a direct painterly response before nature. Rain, hail or shine. Mark has a PHD in Painting from Monash University, is widely exhibited, and is a published writer for Art Monthly Australia, Artists Profile, and Australian Art Review