‘I weave real and personal elements in slightly mysterious compositions to create calm dreamlike paintings with a feeling of otherness and nostalgia’.
Some drawings are art’s X rays. John Waters’ certainly are. His intimate grazing of paper surface with pen and pencil reveals the bones of scrutiny. Here in the most seemingly casual of delineations can be sensed an eye and imagination at work, alert to the dialogue between far and near, in and out, focus and fuzz, dark and light. Creative souls who come to making art from and architectural background carry the imprint of their trade to their graves (and their sketchbooks). It manifests itself in an instinctive grab at the world half glimpsed and half imagined. This grabbing is more a seizing in possibilities before they slip away. Perhaps it stems from a professional lifetime of communicating with clients through images. In this context the image becomes a cipher whereby the architects’ and clients’ desires can be articulated and overlaid in the hope that the patterns of convergence might appear.
But John Waters is no longer an architect but a limner of pictures. They please and intrigue him and he hopes they can do as much for their viewers. They also represent release. Unlike architectural projects which involve much organisation and a supply chain of labour, decision making and invariably compromise, the process of painting a picture is for Waters unalloyed, something approaching an act of beauty or as he describes, ‘the luxury of building an imaginary world’. But this process doesn’t take place in some Platonic ether. It has apparatus, sometimes involving making models and photographing objects to create candidate scenarios which might possibly the scaffolding for an image. Viewers of such works as ‘Arrangement’, ‘Tear Garden’, or ‘Living Room’ will have little inkling of the incremental production processes and decision making underlying the formulation of such images.
Nor might they fully appreciate the painstaking application of pigment and surface finishes that ensures the visual richness of the finished images. But that is in the nature of image making and architecture. The underlying structures and processes are meant to stay out of sight. Much of Waters’ imagery is about worlds within worlds. The artist’s reference to the influence of cartoons in which the narrator is suddenly dragged in to the central action, or ‘stories within stories’ fiction, indicates that the possibilities of this idea have been rolling around in his imagination for a long time. When windows appear within windows or pictorial illusions of objects assume an enhanced reality through juxtaposition with other illusionist slices of physical reality, the viewer should be on capriccio alert and be prepared for a journey on which the borderlines between reality and imagination are endlessly negotiable.
John Neylon is an Adelaide-based independent art writer and curator