A search for a deeper connection to landscape, was in part, the inspiration for a move to Wanaka at the end of last year – a move which seems to have influenced the direction of Neal Palmer’s new exhibition.
Palmer has been working with gilded metal surfaces and botanical forms for a few years now, toying with pictorial and abstract relationships between form, colour, texture and an emotive connection with nature. Perhaps naturally, Palmer’s recent shift of location has impacted his outlook and even subject matter.
Being drawn to the variety of bleached weathered driftwood forms found out walking around the river and lake side, lead to a rather sizable driftwood collection being housed in the artist studio. Most of the driftwood has been lugged several miles before reaching its new home; and it’s probably only natural to feel particular fondness for a piece of wood once you make the effort to carry it over a mountain or around a lake side.
Palmer’s interest with the gilding process (applying gold/silver leaf) is in part about the light of metallic surfaces interacting with painted textures and forms within the paintings. However, by gilding the actual wood it has the effect of increasing the focus of the individual pieces as pure forms.
Being environmentally minded – though never at the forefront – has always been an aspect of Palmer’s work. Because of his interest with gilded silver and gold, he’s always had a fascination with the myth of King Midas, which for Palmer serves as a good analogy for current environmental issues: pursuit of wealth over and above the ability to live and love in the world.
Midas, turning his food to gold was only a delight for a very short time, his daughter being turned to gold was instantly horrific – which lead to him begging to have the ‘curse’ removed. As it was a gift given in good faith Midas was told to wash the golden touch off in the river, the golden touch flowed from his hands and into the sands of the river banks (a poetic explanation for the presence of gold around rivers).
Palmer’s emphasis with the Midas myth is that it’s a cautionary tale and that (within context) a large majority of versions of this story have a happy ending. It’s a note of positivity which echo his own feelings and hope for our current environmental concerns. The Midas reference for Palmer, is why he’s started gilding his driftwood collection and incorporating it into his upcoming exhibition – a body of work which inspires a reflective response to the natural environment.