Who among us has not looked to the sky and thought of flying like a bird, gliding through space unshackled from our earthbound state? Despite the fact that it is held as tightly within the cycle of survival as any creature, the bird's capacity to soar at will has made it an eternal subject of human fascination; a motif of beauty and freedom that painters, composers and poets across the ages have been drawn to.
For Matthew Kentmann there is an irresistible lure and logic in the subject. Birds occur naturally in his surroundings, whether the magpie visiting him on the verandah where he paints, pausing long enough to be sketched; or more dramatically in his surprise sighting of a pair of blue and gold macaws in suburban Sydney, two silhouettes diving into his field of vision with the aplomb of visitors from another realm. It was this appearance of the bird-in-flight motif, centre stage on an otherwise ordinary day, that inspired the paintings in this exhibition.
But it is one thing to notice a subject; something else entirely to commit to working with it. A motif of such grandeur could spell trouble for an artist, their ambition being greater than their capacity for realisation. Not in Kentmann's case. He has been able to convincingly represent these subjects, harnessing the bird's associations as a symbolic form while remaining true to experience, firstly because the macaws entered his space (he has seen them) and secondly because of his skilfulness and sound judgment as a draftsman and painter.
Two decades of experience in the life drawing room and the painting studio have equipped him to weave a beautiful illusion, catching the macaws mid-swoop as they approach or wheeling away with undersides exposed. The artist has looked for that angle, that moment, in which the bird's action becomes a painterly form, giving him full scope to compose with shape and expressive colour. Thus he has steered away from archetypal bird-shapes and found forms that are at once more specific and more abstract: delicately modelled or subtly flattened, set against coloured grounds that bring us to the question of location. Is the bird shown to us in the midday sky, at sunset, in smoke haze or against a wall?
However we explain the place and time, it is the emotive atmosphere between bird and coloured ground that remains in mind after seeing these paintings. Kentmann has shared with us a moment in which life revealed itself in a wilder, more elemental guise than usual, and he has given it universality through the art of painting.
Joe Frost 2019