Wild at heart

Updated: Sep 22

Wellington painter Ben Lysaght’s works include broad, saturated strokes of fuchsia, deep teal, vibrant cherry red, neon green, and gobs of yellow. He talks to Annie Keig about the concepts behind the canvas.

Ben Lysaght works on Once a Wilderness

When someone described his paintings as just pretty pictures, ‘it stung,’ says Ben Lysaght. He feels his hyper saturated palettes are more than just aesthetically pleasing. ‘I have been exploring and investigating botanical gardens. Their histories with colonisation, power; their modern incarnations and attempts at preservation and conservation.’

Ben was born in Ashburton and his first solo exhibition, Once a Wilderness at Ashburton Art Gallery, explores the highly curated, Eurocentric, and colonial history of botanic gardens alongside the dearth of modern day wilderness. ‘They’re really interesting spaces – at first look glance they are such placid spaces but make an interesting lens to explore their relationships with nature and the wider world around us.’

Ben Lysaght, Cunningham House

He describes his paintings, like Cunningham House, as drawing attention to the ‘bizarre, uncanny staged world within’ these manufactured wild spaces. He uses colour to ‘overwhelm and immerse.’

His works are often a combination of ideas and reference photos – his own photography, and from external sources. ‘Lately it's been through perusing photographic archives. It adds a little something extra when that image has been preserved with the intention of being remembered.’

Lysaght describes himself as a chaotic worker, sometimes working on five paintings at a time and often needing to trick himself into finishing them. ‘I love starting a painting,’ he says, ‘there’s so much potential and enjoyment in watching the blank canvas begin to take form.’ Sometimes he’ll buy new materials to motivate himself to get back into the studio. ‘New paint works great for motivation,’ he says, ‘but less so for the bank account.’

Once a Wilderness is at Ashburton Art Gallery until 31 July.


Entrance - 2019 , Once a Wilderness, and Open Daily - by Ben Lysaght

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