TANKS & CANALS
Just as the Horizon paintings had developed out of an earlier engagement with Australian iconography, so the Tank and Canal paintings from the early 1990s emerged out of Tim Maguire’s previous depictions of water tanks in the Australian landscape (see Tank, 1986 at the University of NSW, Sydney). And like the Horizon series, these paintings are much more abstracted interpretations of their subjects – in fact, the works depict light as much as they depict physical objects.
The figurative origins of these paintings are best understood through examination of the early 1990s Tank paintings (see Red Tanks, 1990 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, or Black Tanks, 1990 at the Art Gallery of South Australia). As indeed also in the smaller Tanks (99U72) on the following page, these paintings depict blinding strips of sunlight coming out from in between corrugated watertanks, still identifiable by their rippled edges but otherwise abstracted into concentric semi-circles.
Although these paintings mark an abrupt departure from the elongated horizontal Australian landscapes to totemic vertical bands, the reference is again idiosyncratically Australian: these tanks are found all over the country where water needs to be preserved. They neatly juxtapose two natural elements (water and light) that are in constant struggle, and whose devastating effects in the form of droughts and floods have in recent years become a defining feature of the Australian landscape.
Simultaneously, Maguire was very aware of referencing the famous ‘zip paintings’ of abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman, particularly so in the closely related series of Canal paintings. These paintings were begun when the artist was living in London, and five large examples were shown at the Chisenhale Gallery in 1992.
Other examples of Tim Maguire’s tank and canal paintings are found in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, the Ipswich Art Gallery Collection, and the McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park in Langwarrin.
“The Canal paintings echo Barnett Newman’s zip paintings: light is embodied forth as though it were more substantial than the darkness on either side. Yet the bar of light is just that and nothing more – as it can be read in Newman. Even so, the landscape remains essential. This is even more apparent in Maguire’s preceding paintings, where the light shines brightly through the gaps between corrugated tanks, almost appearing to melt their edges – the paradox here being that the extraordinary energy of the light balances the bulk of the tanks: Light against mass; speed against solidity.”
’Light, Skin and Beauty’, Tim Maguire, Sydney 2007, p. 15