Karl Maughan is recognised for his hyper-real paintings of lush gardens and native fauna – flower gardens, vegetable gardens, manicured bushes and out-of-control wildernesses – Maughan finds inspiration in them all. At first Maughan began painting these settings in the great tradition of ‘plein-air’ – in the outdoors. However, struggling with changeable elements such as wind, light and weather became too problematic. Painting outdoors also became an issue when Maughan relocated to London in the 1990’s. Based there for many years, cooped up in a studio in the East End, Maughan found that he missed the wide open spaces and lushness found in New Zealand gardens. Maughan began to source a growing archive, capturing gardens on film, to take back to his studio where he could then play and reinvent colours, lighting and perspectives. The resulting works were an explosion of colour, encompassing viewers in surrealist fantasy landscapes.
“These painted gardens are carefully stage managed, their flowers chosen as compositional elements rather than as representatives of any particular flora. Maughan aims to show things as they are seen – even if they have been wilfully transplanted. This well-honed naturalism tends to overlook the down-side of the natural cycle: rot, wilt and insect strike are banished in the cultivation of the ideal. Other elements are added, transposed and intensified, as required. Decisions are made as the work progresses, to enliven the surface and take it beyond the limiting challenges of rendering a photograph.” (Richard Wolfe, “Interflora”, Art New Zealand, #97 / Summer 2000, p. 65)
Maughan loves the narratives that viewers create for themselves as they enter his paintings. Viewers can fanaticise walking along the garden paths, among the super-bright flowers and sunlight-dappled bushes. “I’m interested in all the cultural associations we all have with the idea of the garden. They are a central part of the idea of civilisation, the first instance of humans asserting their control over nature.” A human-urge does exist to control the wilderness – engaging in pruning, planting, landscaping and pest-control, in the quest for beautiful surroundings. Maughan’s gardens are just that – beautiful, without flaw or any sign of decomposing. (read more)