Artist Karl Maughan, a connoisseur of bounteous cultivated gardens - paints a botanical world that we, the viewer simply lose ourselves in. With rounded bushes, winding paths and vivid iridescence colour and aspect, these spaces are gleaming and luscious. They evoke a ‘garden’ that we imagine we could cultivate, tame or simply be inspired by. The viewer is reminded of our longing for such a place, an almost mystical, wondrous and resplendent arena, where, (as Maughan himself says), humans undergo “a conquest over nature and protection from the forest and the wild.”
Born in 1964, Maughan graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from Elam Art School, University of Auckland in 1987. Both Maughan’s parents were keen gardeners. At times, his Father designed gardens for a living and Maughan found he was often sharing his parents love of all things botanical. His passion for the garden motif within his artwork, began in art school, where he painted his Mother’s garden. Maughan says; “What I found with flowers and gardens generally is that you get a tableau of things you can play around with and ideas that you can move around. It's kind of gardening but without all the effort.”
In 1994, Maughan to London, where he married novelist Emily Perkins and raised their family of three children, until 1997 when they came back to New Zealand. He currently lives in Wellington. Maughan has work in international and national collections including, Te Papa Tongarewa NZ, and The Charles Saatchi collection, London, United Kingdom.
With the intensity of the New Zealand light, alongside often rounded forms of both public and domestic gardens, Maughan juxtaposes and highlights the jewel -like scenery that he portrays. In his work, one can see influences of Post Impressionism, (think Monet’s Waterlilies series), and possibly Photo realism, (although Maughan’s style is painterly and loose). The shapes of the multifarious flowers and plants within his paintings, shine with brilliant hue and luminescence. Maughan paints with oil paint using a technique called, “alla prima” or “wet on wet”. Colour mixing takes place on the canvas rather than the palette. One colour cuts into rather than blends into another, creating a wonderful sense of sparkle and depth. He also paints from photograph rather than ‘plein air’ and while there is some aspect of realism of the scene he portrays, Maughan can add or subtract to this landscape and add texture and intensify the colour.
Over the past three decades, Maughan has painted both large and small works, filled with a variety of rhododendrons and azaleas, hydrangeas and wildflowers. He now also uses perennial plants within his composition. Solid forms of bright reds, purples and pinks can sit amidst an array of vivid green bushes, all plump with life. Maughan says he enjoys, “Gardens that are flowering in spring and summer, usually in rows with levels of different flowers, using the path, or grass lawn to weave through them.”
It is the endless possibilities of his arrangement of these public and domestic gardens that has allowed Maughan to grow and experiment as a painter. His works appear effortless, yet they represent an image that is beyond a simple representation of a landscape or flower study. On close viewing, his quick brushstrokes and arrangement of shape and form, light and colour, produce at type of abstraction that stands alone. These grand artworks may appear effortless but don’t be fooled. As Maughan himself says, “The great thing about painting is it engages you in a way that is not easy”.