Magma and phosphorous burn in Peter McLaren’s works.

Colours from the earth’s core are mined to carve a molten lava flow through desolate landscapes.

An unquenchable fire trail, illuminating a visceral journey through a known, yet unknown world.

The acrylic landscapes broodingly traverse the dystopian and Dantesque.

There is a glowering, yet unfettered, turbulence in McLaren’s work.

Like magma, the works seem to rise from deep within the earth, before cooling on the surface.

“I like painting natural phenomenon, or the suggestion of natural phenomenon. I try to create work that maps out an ’emotional landscape’,” McLaren reveals.

 “I often produce my works on weathered or textured surfaces and the work is built up by applying, and then wiping back, translucent layers of pigment,” he says.

”Through this repeated process of concealing and revealing, the image begins to emerge and evolve. The wiping back of pigment also gives the work an inner glow.

“There’s an alchemy in it. The work speaks to you and there is often an element of chance, or serendipity, throughout the process. The work itself suggests where you’re going. Some works tell a story, but I don’t always know what that story is.”

There is a volcanic, violent element in his works, both in effect and execution.

“I don’t use brushes in the traditional sense. I’ll attack the works vigorously, then obliterate,” he says.

“I put paint on and then destroy it.  I stretch and pull the pigment across the surface – I then work into the pigment and it changes. It’s the trace that gets left behind.

 “I like the idea of chance and then allowing it in as part of the creative process. There’s a tension between being in control of the process and letting go”

The abstract works are suggestive of a bigger picture, yet are tantalisingly indefinable.

“I try to capture a mood in my work – a bond to a mythological land,” McLaren says.

“It is less about a recognisable reality, than it is an attempt to capture a feeling; a fleeting moment. The imagery speaks of things that are there, but not quite there. What is suggested is just as important as what is depicted.

“I want to entice the viewer into something that might seem superficially pleasant on one level, but which is also, on closer inspection, quite unsettling.”

Colour dances like sunlight on obsidian in McLaren’s netherworldly landscapes.

Stark worlds shimmer in amber, umber and burnt sienna.

“Colour is an emotional signifier. I use colour, form and texture to produce imagery that alludes to a sense, or experience, of place and hints at absence, alienation or loss,” he says.

“The viewers bring their own stories to the table – the artist merely starts the conversation. I’ll often look at my works and see something different in it. It changes and metamorphoses on me. It’s not static.”

Landscapes are both arrival and departure points for McLaren and his work.

The Dunedin-based painter and printmaker was born in Glasgow, Scotland, before emigrating to New Zealand as a bairn, and his work references the Scottish diaspora.

“The land that cast the exile will always retain the heart,” he muses.

“The landscape here in New Zealand has such a connection to Scotland. There’s a similar haunting beauty; especially in the South Island. The light here is also very similar to Scotland; I put this down to the moisture in the atmosphere.

“At the heart of much of my work lies the idea of ‘Nostos’ (a Greek word which loosely translates as ‘the ache of not being at home’),” he says.

“’Home’ is more than just a physical location; it’s a symbolic or psychological space – a metaphoric or imagined ideal. I try to navigate between the two.  It’s an ongoing dialogue between the idea of ‘home’ and isolation and solitude.”

Since completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Otago School of Art in 2003, McLaren has exhibited widely in New Zealand.

Art and life are indelibly interwoven into his work.

“My work often references ideas of decay and the temporal. In some ways my work has become a meditation on loss and absence. Loss of time, loss of place…

“It also reflects my attempt to give an artistic voice to the ‘indescribable’; of loss and longing and things intangible and unknowable.”

McLaren’s canvases are drenched in philosophy.

“I think art, like all human expression, is essentially a form of language; a way of communicating ideas and feelings through the abstract,” he says.

“Yet, meanings and truths are fluid, not fixed. I’ve always liked the idea that you don’t need to give the viewer all the information, you give them enough to allow them a way in – they then bring their life experiences to it. Once the work is out of your hands you are no longer the author.

“The philosopher Roland Barthes once said it is not the artist who is the sole arbitrator of the work’s meaning.

“The meaning of any work has a life transcending the artist’s intent.”

Nigel Benson (Dunedin arts writer)  November, 2017