His Map of the Human Heart took him to the Arctic Circle. His New Zealand films In Spring One Plants Alone, Vigil, The Navigator, The River Queen and Rain of the Children were all shot in the back of beyond.

So when Vincent Ward, the artist rather than the artful film-maker, delivers an exhibition with the word "landscapes" in it, you have to think: Where on Earth?

Suburban St Lukes as it turns out.

Past the sign for the art supplies shop, down the driveway of an industrial warehouse park, through the roller door and under drop cloths arranged as a tent with natural light filtered through clear plastic.


It's where, for months, Ward and team have been creating Palimpsest/Landscapes. It's a work of very mixed media involving video, photography, choreography, calligraphy, painting ... and quite a lot of fruit. More of which later.

The film-maker has spent most of his time since the release of his latest film, 2008's Rain of the Children, back in the fine arts world where he started.
Palimpsest/Landscapes follows Ilam graduate Ward's previous solo exhibitions Breath: The Fleeing Intensity of Life and video installation Inhale/Exhale, his participation in the Shanghai Biennale and a guest professorship in China.

But, in a way, the new work connects him back to his film-making. Especially to the actual and psychological terrain of his early film Vigil, with its story of an 11-year-old girl set against an unforgiving rural landscape. That was, in turn, inspired by his own upbringing on the family farm in Wairarapa.

As a boy he would spend lots of time alone wandering the clifftops. Meanwhile, his father supplemented the farm income with contract fencing - taking pride in taming the craggy land with straight, taut borders of wire.

"You look at an aerial map of the family farm and the fences, unlike the fences of neighbouring farms, were just like straight - up a hill, down a gorge. They just go, and so tightly that a dog couldn't squeeze through.

"He had this thing about, I guess it was about entropy. It was finding a way of claiming the land, which he felt was important."

There are straight lines in Ward's new work too, interrupting the topographical curves of the landscapes. But the curves of the land are painted and coated on the muscular nude bodies of two female contemporary dancers.

Initially, Ward saw them as something to be photographed then manipulated again - paint or draw over the resulting stills, stitch together the shots into a collage, make it a commentary about photography itself.Along the way, he opted for video over static works.

"The first three months of these," he says pointing to a print," they looked terrible I wasn't able to make them work."

"I decided after working on large canvases, why bother with a canvas? Why not make it move, and paint directly on a substance that you normally wouldn't do abstract painting on?"

So the resulting video works are now living, breathing, menacing things, with their own weather systems and volcanic atmospheres. To get the textures on the models' skin, Ward applied chalk, clay, plaster, ink and acrylic, as well as coffee grounds, avocado, passionfruit and tamarillo.

Plus a few other substances he won't mention because "you can turn me into some kind of weirdo very easily and I'm not," he says, laughing.

This isn't just another variation on body painting.

"The use of colours is very important. So if you are filming, every colour has a meaning. Red on a body is blood so you have to be careful where you use tamarillo. You can't use anything that could be construed as a body fluid, basically. You have to work against that."

Though he filmed digitally, he didn't use visual effects despite his past experience of them, which included the Oscar-winning ones he employed in 1998's What Dreams May Come, a film that also credited a dozen paintings for its otherworldly look.

"I shoot everything, I draw everything, I paint everything," he says. "There is a massive amount of in-the-moment art direction. It's like a jazz riff basically."

The exhibition follows Ward's guest professorship at the China Academy of Art in Hanzhou last year, as well five weeks at the Shanghai University School of Fine Arts.
Those stints followed his show Auckland Station: Destinies Lost & Found at the 2013 Shanghai Biennale.

One of the video works in Palimpsest/Landscapes started out in China and involves Ward himself, underwater, seemingly exhaling ink. Another features calligraphy on the body by visiting modern master Wang Dongling, whom Ward invited to his studio when he exhibited in Auckland.

Ward explained the ideas to him about how landscape and how it's central to the way New Zealanders think about the place they live. Wang came up with a phrase about tracings of memory which Ward thinks fitted his ideas behind the work.

"I like the idea that there are stories in the landscape and the stories are ephemeral. You can find them. They can fade away."

Ward has hopes that after Palimpsest/Landscapes shows at the Trish Clark Gallery it will head to museum shows overseas. Meanwhile, it could be time for the return of Ward the film-maker. His office whiteboard hints at various projects in the offing.
He talks about a personal project film about ink-painting, a sci-fi film he needs time to write (having last dabbled in the genre in an early script on Alien 3), a television series he's trying to get across the line in Europe and a Romulus and Remus story set in Tasmania but to be filmed in New Zealand.

"The thing with film work is that it often takes so many years to finance that if you are not doing short form of some description - like commercials and I've stopped doing those a long time ago - the risk is that you atrophy.

"I like physically doing stuff. I don't like just sitting down and writing all the time."

What: Vincent Ward - Palimpsest/Landscapes
Where & when: Trish Clark Gallery; until September 23