29 Nov Keith Betts
There is something shared in us that makes most of us believe that there is an objective world ‘out there’ and photography for example proves that we all agree on what it looks like.
But we also see a world we recognise in the work of painters whose work is so distinctive that we acknowledge no one else could have painted like that.
As Keith says, ‘I believe a way of painting is also a way of seeing. I can recall a time in my life when I looked at the part of the world that has now become the central focus and subject of much of my painting and thinking, ‘How could I ever paint that the way I see it?’
The answer is, I suppose, ‘not easily’. It has taken a long time. And the unexpected, unsought-for lesson in this long process is that by looking at the world I paint, painting pictures of it and then looking once again at that world, both for me are transformed.
I say this is unexpected but I should have been aware a long time ago from the experience of visiting galleries and museums and emerging from them into the daylight and seeing the world anew, transformed by the inner experience of the works of others, that this was what must happen in my own painting life.’
There is abstraction in all of these paintings. In some there is also a very clear depiction of very particular places (eg ‘Sunbaking Rock’, ‘Spectacle Island and Brooklyn Bridge’). In most, however, there is only representation in a very general sense with remembered subjects overlaid with or abutting other remembered subjects and the only clear orientation deriving from a horizon line or from vertical gestures suggesting trees or shadowed masses representing boulders etc. In some paintings even these landscape markers are absent. There is barely up or down. In these, far more than in the more ‘realistic’ landscapes, Keith has indeed met head-on that old challenge of ‘How could I ever paint that the way I see it?’ (eg ‘Deep in the Bush’, ‘Off Track’).Each of these paintings occupies its place along a spectrum from abstraction to outright depiction. To some extent this is a matter of scale. The closer you get to the more realistic paintings the more abstract they appear and the farther you get from the more abstract works the more their elements coalesce into a kind of depiction.
‘I hope the paintings speak to each other in these terms when seen together in this exhibition and it is pleasing to me to have the opportunity at Lost Bear of giving them the space to do so. I am not the sort of painter who is prepared to lose touch with his audience by becoming wilfully indecipherable, but at the same time I want to share how I see what is around me by meeting halfway…or less…or more.’
Sometimes there is an actual physical point at which this occurs for me while painting as I step back from the canvas, just as it is for the viewer: the point at which confused marks suddenly begin to ‘make sense’.
Keith Betts was the winner of the Waterbrook Trendsetter Travel Prize for 2010 for ‘Growth’ and was a finalist in the 2011 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the richest art prize in Australia and the richest portrait prize in the world, for his painting ‘The Inner Ear: Susan Blake with Gerard Willems’.
In 2012 his portrait of Karen Carey, ‘Always this Moment of Doubt’ was a finalist in the Black Swan Portrait Prize in Perth. In 2013 ‘Wozza, In Your Face’ was a semifinalist in the Moran Prize and in the 2014 Glencore Percival Portrait Prize in Townsville he had two portraits as finalists.
In the field of landscape he has been a finalist in the Mosman Art Prize and was awarded 2nd in the RAS Easter Show Prize for Landscape.
In 2014 he was a finalist in the Heysen Interpretation of Place Prize in Hahndorf, South Australia and also in the Norvill Prize, Murrurundi, NSW.
He has won numerous other prizes and awards in Sydney and throughout NSW for landscape painting and draftsmanship.