Burnt earth by Michael Ambriano

Our current Dragon’s Lair Gallery artist is Sydney artist, Michael Ambriano. Michael grew up next to the sea and in close proximity to the Royal National Park. His love of nature was cultivated during his teenage years when he would spend many hours at a time exploring bushland close to his grandparents house with his cousins. Michael has a fascination with capturing colour and emotion in landscape painting and aims to harness this passion when producing his work. Michael specialises in plein air painting (creating his work within the landscape)

Burnt earth is a personal exploration of the devastating effects that the 2019/2020 bushfires had on the Australian landscape. Now 12 months on, this exhibition offers an eerie yet beautiful commentary on the lasting impact of the fires, as well as documenting a glimpse of the recovery and regeneration that has begun to occur.

Michael recently took some time to answer some questions about his artistic process.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ambriano

Can you give us an insight into your artistic process? Is your work pre-planned or created intuitively? How long does each work take to complete?

Being a plein air painter, most of my works are created intuitively. When I work plein air I take my sketch book & art equipment and create works on what grabs my attention from the surrounding landscape. If I am looking at creating larger work, I create a study or a sketch in the landscape and then create the work in the studio, so that may involve some pre planning. My day in the landscape also includes gathering of data such as colour, form, textures, mood and composition of the works. I then interpret that in my sketch book, small canvas or back in the studio.

A small work can take around 3-4 hours. A larger work can take up to 2 weeks. The works are then left on display in my studio and I do go back to them over time and adjust or retouch the paintings. At times once I have had a chance to look at the work over a few weeks, I may scrap a painting entirely and start again.

Being confident in my medium allows me to work quickly and confidently on the art I am constructing at the time.

Can you explain your technique; how you manipulate the medium?

I work wet on wet – I apply a turps / oil paint wash as an underpainting to the canvas and then build up the texture from there. Wiping back and adding as I go. I manipulate my tonal range and colours on the canvas as I paint. This enables the process to be instant and allows me to correct or adjust as I work. I use mainly my hands and range of different sized brushes to apply the paint to the canvas. I use my hands as I feel like there is more of a connection to the canvas using this method. If I don’t like what I have created this allows me to wipe it off the canvas and start again. It feels like I am unveiling the image on the canvas not actually painting it.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ambriano

Do you keep some kind of ongoing drawing book or diary? Or a collection of images or photographs for inspiration?

I use a day to day visual diary to sketch out random sketches, ideas, forms and thought processes from the landscape. If I am working on a series of work I use as many sketch books as required to immerse myself in the series and to allow me the freedom to sketch and put down ideas, colours and images that may be useful for the series. When working plein air I may also take a series of photographs which I can then refer back to in the studio if required.

 Who are your favourite artists? Who do you draw inspiration from?

The list of artists I draw inspiration from is long and divers and ranges from classic European masters to Australian artists.

My favourite artists include Cezanne, Van Gogh, De Kooning for their shapes, forms and colours. I also draw inspiration from Australian artists such as Sid Nolan, Clifton Pugh & John Olsen just to name a few. On my Instagram account (@ambrianoart) I also follow a number of contemporary artists to keep up to date on what is happening in the contemporary art world.

Burnt earth is on display in the Dragons Lair Gallery at Hurstville Museum & Gallery from 28 November 2020 to 7 February 2021.

You can also find out more about Michael’s work on Instagram @ambrianoart.

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