Neal Palmer has been a full time artist since arriving in Auckland in the late 90’s. Neal’s work over the years has largely focused on botanical images and he has become well known for his meticulously detailed large scale paintings; yet despite their realism, these paintings push beyond representation.
I love experimenting with the sculptural forms of plants to create work that has an immediate emotional draw but also works on deeper levels within the field of painting. Harakeke (flax), for instance, conjures childhood memories and also has a high degree of cultural mana stretching back through colonial times as a raw material for rope making; and has a significant role in many aspects of earlier tangata whenua.
I have been working with flax as subject matter for over 15 years now, these carefully structured paintings have become signature works and good example of where my work carries over into abstraction. I love the way the leaves weave in and out creating a visual lattice work that I can play with compositionally – building relationships and rhythm, outside any representative concerns.
This strive to create a sense of three dimensional form probably harks back to my years as a sculptor — while studying for a BFA at Trent University in the UK, I was encouraged to experiment within disciplines, allowing my practice to evolve quite naturally from painting into sculptural installation. Following art school, my experience as a sculptor diversified and I found himself working as a prop maker for film and TV for many years, as well working as a muralist and decorative gilder.
After a period of living and working between the UK, Australia and NZ, I eventually settled in Auckland (1998) and into life as a full-time artist, having my first solo show of paintings the same year. Since 1998, I’ve managed 17 solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows across the country.
Despite the many shifts of focus in my work over the years, one consistent theme has been my interest in blending visual languages, exploring how the languages of painting, photography and sculpture can inform and cross-reference each other. One particular emphasis has been to develop work that uses the illusion of a photographic ‘depth of field’ to allow images to slip between realism and abstraction, a technique which creates a visual tension between the painting’s surface and the illusion of depth in the work. As a painter, these interdisciplinary sensibilities only come together when combined with a quality of mark-making that lifts the art works beyond representation.
Another aspect of photography I employ is its use of light in image making, drawing from my background in gilding — I have recently re-introduced the practice of gilding with gold and silver leaf into my paintings. I love the reflective nature of the leaf; the way the light interacts with the surface of the work. I’ve developed a style of drawing images with the leaf that feels like a cross between old silver gelatin photographic prints and stenciled street art.
While an obsession with the process of art-making keeps me working and my work evolving, I’m also drawn to creating a variety of sensual reactions and experiences to interest the viewer, from the lighter side of nature’s allure, to darker considerations which draw on references to the fleeting nature of its beauty. It’s important to me to produce work that sits comfortably within the traditions and history of painting, albeit in an off beat manner.