The earliest works in the exhibition, dated between 1990-92, are also amongst the most abstract. Reduced to two or three horizontal bands of colour, these paintings reveal only the slightest hint at their figurative origins. They are Tim Maguire’s first serious engagement with abstraction, following his early paintings of iconic Australian motifs – for example the brick barbecue (see Barbecue and Mirage, 1985 at the National Gallery of Victoria), or large water tanks (see Tank, 1986 at the University of New South Wales). This interest in abstraction would fuel his practice throughout the 1990s, and would become a driving force in his mature oeuvre.
Although the dramatic depictions of stretched-out horizons from the early 1990s were devoid of the overt iconography that is found in Maguire’s earlier works, the reference to the wide horizons of the country’s vast landscape is unmistakable, and emphasised by the elongated format of the canvases.
The shift towards this more formal approach to painting had been encouraged by Jan Dibbets, who was Tim Maguire’s teacher at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf. The Horizon paintings are the culmination of this transition, which resulted in a body of work in which the formal qualities of the painting and its subject matter are perfectly aligned.
This increased preoccupation with the formal aspect of the medium also spurred Tim Maguire’s interest in European and American mid-century abstraction, in particular the Abstract Expressionist painters. Whereas earlier works had captured the underside of a rectangular bridge in the language of Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square paintings, the Horizon series aludes to Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings. What is interesting here is not so much the aesthetic similarities between the two artists, but the unexpected intersection of two completely different visual traditions that find common ground. The paintings neatly demonstrate that Rothko’s visual language, often understood to be highly culturally specific, can equally emerge from a completely different set of cultural conditions.
Other early landscape paintings by Tim Maguire are found in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
“The landscapes I painted were totally fabricated, and most of the pictorial references are borrowed from other artists. That was my point, that so much Australian landscape was an imposition of European aesthetics and pictorial conventions onto this empty space.”
in conversation with Jonathan Watkins, ‘What Is It ‘As It Really Is’, Tim Maguire, Sydney 2007, p. 49