The seed has been planted. Once the idea pops up in a conversation about his first Perth exhibition in 11 years, Tim Maguire ponders the suggestion of walking into the British Museum and asking to see one of his prints stored among its extensive collection.
The museum is among the many public, corporate and private collectors of Maguire's art, which spans a more diverse oeuvre than the large, lavish close-ups of flowers and fruit he is best known for.
The works in the British Museum were a gift from the Australian Print Workshop, where Maguire created a series of lithographs in the early 1990s. "You can actually go in and ask for anything and they will pull it out for you," he says. "I'll have to go in one day and ask to see mine."
Maguire, who exhibited at the John Curtin Gallery in 2001, returns to Perth this month as a guest of property developer and art collector Nigel Satterley and his wife Denise. The couple have turned over their empty Peppermint Grove mansion to showcase his work to the public before the building is demolished to make way for a new home. The house was built more than a century ago for Fremantle's pioneering Samson family and the Maguire exhibition will be a fitting way to farewell the old building, Mr Satterley says.
"Denise and I became aware of Tim's work about 10 years ago and since then we have been enamoured, indeed captivated, by the rich and vivid colour of his paintings," he says. "They are beautiful and brilliant."
A favourite painting of the Satterleys, an untitled painting from Maguire's 2005 Berries series, spans the entire wall of their dining room in their current abode around the corner.
A quietly spoken Australian art star, Maguire also has the luminescent appreciation of Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who wrote an essay in a 2007 monograph about the artist by Tony Godfrey and Jonathan Watkins.
In an upmarket take on the pop-up gallery concept, the 19 View Street mansion show is a novelty for an artist who normally hangs his art on the pure white walls of public and commercial galleries.
"It is fun to have something which has its own personality," Maguire says of the pre-Federation home, which was later remodelled and extended in a Provencal style.
Such a setting is apt, he says, for his work that is both historical and contemporary, inspired by the Dutch still-life masters but employing new techniques and often poised at the enigmatic cusp between beauty and desolation.
Aside from Maguire's signature large-scale botanical canvases, the more than 20 works on show include a series of lightboxes featuring watery reflections and tortuous post-bushfire regrowth, ink on aluminium and a semi-abstracted painting of a water tank. Most have been produced over the past year.
"I am excited because the venue is interesting and the project is out of the ordinary but also Perth is something out of the ordinary as well. I've pretty much shown exclusively in Melbourne and Sydney. It is a new audience."
Maguire's previous solo show was at the Von Lintel Gallery in New York last year. He has exhibited widely in Australia, Europe, the US and Asia and has spent much of his life overseas since leaving Australia in 1984 and completing his art studies at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf.
"The great thing about being in Germany, while I can't say that I enjoyed the art school experience, was that it was jam-packed with amazing professors who were some of the great names in contemporary art," he says. "I had access to European museums and all these amazing collections for the first time in my life. I spent a lot of my time not at the art school."
For 20 years, Maguire has split his time between London and France, where he has a home near Toulouse in the south-west, but makes regular trips to work and exhibit in Australia.
Many people may see his large paintings of flowers and fruit as purely decorative but that misses the point, Maguire says,
Like 17th and 18th century still lifes painted as memento mori on the reverse of portraits of rich people, his grotesquely magnified images impel the viewer to see death and decay in the superficial beauty.
Zoomed in almost to the point of abstraction, his paintings radiate a tension between the overtly beautiful and the monstrous.
"There is a bit of a knee-jerk response from people who say flowers are pretty so this must be a pretty painting," he says.
"But if you look at them, some of them aren't pretty at all. They are anything but. I wonder whether there is an expectation that the work is decorative or about making beautiful things. "There is no question I am fascinated by the idea of beauty. Making something beautiful is not to be sneered at but I'm not sure they are beautiful a lot of the time."
Luminous and layered surfaces are central to Maguire's painting technique that he refers to as colour separation, developed through his earlier explorations of lithography and printing processes.
He uses solvent "like other artists use pigment", he says. Between layers of colour, he flicks a dissolving agent over the works to "open the paintings up", making them more abstract and unpredictable.
With their two children now in their early 20s, Maguire and his wife Adrienne may spend more time in Australia, although the peripatetic lifestyle suits him.
"There is a quite a lot of moving around in our lives and we are trying to work out a way of being in three places at once. I go into a new studio and the white walls are calling out to take a painting so it can be quite invigorating."Tim Maguire is showing works to the public at 19 View Street, Peppermint Grove, from October 16-21 after a VIP preview on October 15.
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