'Landscape' 1987 - Adrian Wiszniewski

This image is heavily stylised, with strong outlines. Due to the style the foreground and background are difficult to separate.

Acrylic on canvas, 263 x 310cm
Accession Number WAG 10614
Purchased in 1987

The two figures in this painting are allegorical portraits of the artist and his wife Diane, who at the time it was made was expecting their first child.

The artist was exploring the theme of man's relationship with the natural world in his work of this period. The landscape is richly studded with symbols of sexuality and fecundity and powerfully informed by a sense of the past and the future. Under the contemplative gaze of the kneeling artist the woman, with her strange, balletic pose and her heraldic, archaic costume, remains a figure of impenetrable mystery.

More about the artist

Adrian Wiszniewski was born in 1958 in Glasgow and worked in a variety of media (paintings, prints, ceramics and TV screenplays) in order to explore more avenues for his ideas. Wiszniewki has been critically acclaimed and his work has been acquired by the Tate as well as by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In his early career Wiszniewski was regarded as one of the British New Image painters whose work was characterised by a return to figurative imagery and the expressive use of paint. As is often the case in the development and history of art, the New Image movement cannot strictly be defined. It was mainly a reaction to the Conceptual art of the 1960s, namely art which is concerned more with ideas rather than the representation of reality.

Having participated in a number of exhibitions in Glasgow, Wiszniewski moved from Glasgow to Ainmouth, on the coast of Northumberland. 'Landscape' was painted in March and April 1987 during the artist's residency in the Walker Art Gallery. Wiszniewski was unfamiliar with acrylic paint and spent quite a lot of his time completing the painting. However, as one of the largest canvases he had painted, despite its size it was executed quite quickly.

'Landscape' seems to have an unorthodox title given the prominent placing of the two figures (male and female) in the painting. However, when carefully observing the painting we notice that the flowing of colour and lines unites the figures with their surroundings and fuses the foreground with the background.
The central figure is that of a woman balancing on a coin on top of a cone. Wiszniewski revealed that the woman's balancing act was inspired by his visit to a performance of 'Swan Lake' in Liverpool the night before he began working on the painting. Her pose appears to be idealistic and classical and she is dressed in an allegorical costume. The woman's central place in the composition, the flying bird, the phallic pipes held by both figures as well as the spring bubbling upwards from underground have a symbolic meaning.

We know that the artist's wife was six months pregnant when the painting began and it may well be the case that the painting reflects the artist's feelings about his wife as well as his inner thoughts about fertility, womanhood and his association with nature. Despite the fact that the figures are portraits of the artist and his wife, very little attempt is made to achieve likeness; on the contrary the expression of both figures seems identical.

Wiszniewski used colour in an expressive way. Despite the scale, the colour and the density of 'Landscape', the overall effect is still and tranquil. The painting looks as if it is part of a web in which allusions overlap in such a way that they cannot be pinned down to a single meaning. The ambivalence of Wiszniewski's visual signs, as well as the continuous flow of his brushwork, reflect the subconscious way he works. As the artist reveals: "I may start off with a line which turns out to be an eyebrow and which will give on to an eye, a nose, another eye, a mouth. You have to go about it that way to allow the subconscious to work at full capacity. If you let the conscious mind take over then you are going to repeat what someone, else has done. You may have the central point of the picture in your mind but you are never sure of how it is going to develop".

In 'Landscape' Wiszniewski returns to the theme of the Arcadia, the Ancient Greek ideal region of rural happiness, where man and nature lived in harmony. A gouache painting on paper, titled 'Arcadian Landscape', made by the artist for his introductory exhibition in the Walker in 1986, also explored the contemporary meaning of Arcadia.

We could compare Wiszniewski's treatment of the theme of Arcadia with the another, earlier painting in the Walker's collection, Maurice Greiffenhagen's 'An Idyll'. 'An Idyll' is a visual representation of ideal love and life and reflects more the influence of Greek mythology and literature on Victorian culture rather than being an investigation of the relationship between man and nature. 'Landscape' is a mysterious and hypnotic painting in which the artist dramatises his individual concerns. The personal and intimate event of the artist's wife's pregnancy is invested with a much more universal meaning of the relationship between man and nature.