There are many uses for honey – you can put it your tea, eat on toast, use it to dress wounds, pour it on a friend, or perhaps take the beeswax and mix it in with your oil paint. And why not? Philip Wolfhagen has a new show of his honey on toast paintings at Sherman Galleries called The Inner Edge. We have always liked ‘Flip’ Wolfhagen’s paintings, right back to his show at Syme-Dodson Gallery in 89, and he’s been plowing the same field ever since. Perhaps it’s some sort of marketing agreement with Tasmanian honey manufacturers, or bee keepers, but whatever he’s done, they look beautiful.
There are two series of works. The first is his Landscape Semaphore series of oil and beeswax on linen panels – striped paintings that suggest landscapes without actually defining them. As far as we can tell, this is the first time Wolfhagen has strayed into a semi-conceptual realm by naming his pictures in a way that indicates that the stripes of pigment (a la Sean Scully) are merely notional landscapes in the viewer’s mind and not illusionistic paintings. Like the system of signals that the pictures are named for, the Landscape Semaphores are acute indication of the awareness of the artist that his paintings are both images and signs. Blimey!
His other series, three large canvases that seem more traditional than the semaphores, are also similarly on the edge of an abstract/illusionistic expressionism. They could be pictures made of painterly gestures, but they are also just a bunch of beeswax hanging on canvas. Painted dark grey, blue and black, these images of tree lines receding into darkness are enlivened by splashes of red and yellow, which cannot but help to invoke the trailing of car tail lights. Kind of like a Tim Storrier painting, only better, Wolfhagen puts his big pictures into a slightly uncomfortable relationship with photography – the tail light smears are really only something we experience on film and the little outlines of red he adds elsewhere are not ‘natural’ either. But then again, these are just paintings, not frames around a window. Despite the falsity of the medium, we still seem to expect a form of realism from landscape painting and Wolfhagen’s breathtakingly subtle show puts all of that up for grabs.