Exploring 'Infinite Horizons'

Caitilin Punshon
I went to the exhibition Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons. It is at the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square. There are more than 130 paintings by Fred Williams. He is an admired Australian artist. Most of the paintings are of the landscape. The horizon is important to Williams. In some paintings the horizon is up high. In some it curves. There are different ways to look at these paintings. You can stand at a distance from them. Or you can get up close. I think people will enjoy this exhibition. The paintings show the beauty of the Australian landscape.
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Caitilin Punshon on 25/05/2012
Williams's modern painting called Sturt's Desert Pea. It has four horizontal panels, each of which have small red and black desert peas.
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Fred Williams, 'Sturt's Desert Pea', 1974

There are many ways to experience the landscape. Where you stand shapes what you see. It also affects what you sense. This happens in the natural environment. But it is true in Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons too. This art exhibition is currently on at the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square in Melbourne. It features over 130 stunning paintings of forests, beaches, waterfalls and deserts.

Williams's landscape paintings

Fred Williams is one of Australia's most admired artists. The 20th century artist is best known for his extraordinary landscape paintings. These images are sometimes abstract. They convey the feeling or essence of a place rather than its specific details. Some of Williams's portraits and early paintings feature in the exhibition. However, it is his landscapes that really shine.

Williams liked to work in series. He would complete a number of paintings of the same place or in the same style. Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons includes paintings of Upwey and the You Yangs in outer Melbourne. There are haunting minimalist landscapes and vibrant seascapes as well. The famous Pilbara paintings, with their fierce red energy, are also present. Visitors to this exhibition can see subtle shifts between paintings in the same series. Looking closely, you become immersed in the places Williams depicts.

The importance of horizons

As the exhibition's title implies, horizons are important for Williams. In most landscape paintings, the horizon divides the picture. What is interesting in these paintings is the way Williams played with this line. In some cases the horizon is placed high at the top of the canvas. In others it stretches diagonally or falls steeply sideways. Occasionally it swings into a curve.

A horizon usually helps position a viewer in relation to a scene. Yet in some of these paintings there is no horizon. Earth, air and water all blur together. Marks indicating features of the landscape seem to float across indistinct backgrounds. Some paintings show an aerial perspective. This allows the viewer to look down onto the land.

Sometimes more than one viewpoint is presented. One painting has a horizon where the sea meets the sky. But there are also footprints in the sand as seen from above. The effect is dazzling and a little dizzying too.

Distance and detail

The paintings in this exhibition are like the landscape itself. People will experience them differently depending on where they stand. From a distance, you get a sense of the whole scene. It is easy to imagine it extending beyond the edges of the canvas. Up close, there are smaller details to appreciate. There is the texture of the paint and the mixing of the colours. You can see how the whole image is made up of each separate brushstroke. It is like being in a forest and noticing both the trees and the individual leaves.

Celebrating the beauty

However close they stand to the paintings, viewers will enjoy Fred Williams's unique representations of the Australian landscape. Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons is a very impressive exhibition. It reveals the diversity and consistency of one artist's vision. But it is more than that. From the muddy colours of gum trees to the brilliant blues of an ocean scene, these paintings celebrate the beauty of where we live.

Fred Williams, Infinite Horizons is on at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria Australia until 22 July. Exhibition entry fees apply.

Auslan interpreted tours of the exhibition will be held at 1pm on 10 June and 14 July. Visual describing tours will be held at 1pm on 9 June and 15 July.

National Gallery of Victoria

Fred Williams Australia 1927–82, lived in England 1951–56 Sturt's Desert Pea 1974 gouache, synthetic polymer paint 55.6 x 77.2 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Purchased from Gallery admission charges, 1983 ©Estate of Fred Williams

Readers comments (2)

I love this article, Caitilin. It really took me back to the exhibition and how it felt to be standing in front of the paintings. You've captured the essence well.

After living in the Pilbara for a year the horizon has taken on a new meaning for me. It is vast and seemingly endless with very little to break it. A hill is a welcome relief to the flat desolate expanse. Which is in stark contrast to what I remember of a city scape, where the only horizon experienced is either down a city street or across a bridge. Maybe I am being a little harsh, but the contrast is undeniable.

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