: Sydney-based, Auckland-born photographer and printmaker's first NZ solo show, Misplaced
Where and when
: Lane Gallery, 33 Victoria St East, to July 26
Matt Palmer sits in the kitchen of his father's house in Mt Eden, and points to a painting of a boy and girl standing in the countryside looking towards the hills. "That's me and Anna [his sister] as children in Dad's painting," he says, "amusing ourselves as best we could. We spent a lot of time doing that pretty much every weekend, mooching around on the West Coast or up north to Puhoi, Coromandel, Great Barrier."
Palmer's father is Stanley Palmer, one of our leading landscape painters and print-makers. Matt Palmer, 43, who is based in Sydney and makes award-winning commercials, grew up with Stanley's art, working in his basement printmaking studio, absorbing the techniques. And because Matt and Anna's mother died when they were very young, when Stanley travelled overseas to study and paint, they went too.
"We travelled around Europe a lot when I was 7 or 8," recalls Matt. "I was most interested in castles and swords, but I remember getting interested in art. If we weren't in a landscape, we were in a gallery. Because Dad was a solo parent, we had to go everywhere he went. I still like going back to those galleries - the Tate, the Louvre. I was very lucky being introduced to it all as a kid and getting to know what you like."
Like his sister, also a printmaker, Palmer says it was "pretty much a given that I would go to Elam. Dad was an artist and Mum was an artist when she died. It was the thing we did. I really loved art at school and passionately wanted to do art."
But what sort of art? Landscapes, like his father? That was a dilemma that gnawed at Palmer for years.
"The thing I remember looking back at art school was suddenly waking up one day in my second year and realising that technically I could draw and paint the way I wanted to but not having anything more than that. What more did I have to offer? Until that point it had been easy. Growing up in a family that was all about painting and printmaking, I felt like I was supposed to do oil painting but deep down I wanted to do photography and film, something more modern and contemporary."
Palmer quit Elam and became a production assistant for Silver Screen Films in Wellington. He worked on videos with bands such as the Dead Flowers, Ted Brown and JPSE, and became a director for Blackstump Films in the capital, followed by Flying Fish Films in Auckland. He moved across the Tasman to Flying Fish's Sydney branch, then on to CIF Productions and Film Construction in Sydney, where he remains today. But he has always maintained a parallel interest in photography as an art form, exhibiting in galleries in Wellington and Sydney, and in a group show in Auckland's Lane Gallery last year.
This week, Palmer opened Misplaced, his first solo show at the Lane Gallery. The works mark another kind of coming home - his love of New Zealand landscapes in contrast to earlier shows which revealed a preoccupation with hip-looking people playing out urban dramas. Misplaced's 14 prints, each with 10 editions, are refreshingly empty of people, mysterious shots of forests and fields in places such as the Whanganui River, Otaki, the King Country, the Wairarapa.
Palmer bases his technique on the old hand-painted photos from the 40s and 50s. The prints start life as digital colour files, then he adds layers of paint on to the images on his computer which are then scanned as prints. The morning after opening night, almost every print in the show bore a red dot, indicating a sale.
"I don't think there is anyone else doing this with the technology," he says.
"I wanted to use the technology that had the sensibilities of printmaking, the past techniques like printing and etching. I felt like a lot of modern digital printmaking lacked depth, doesn't draw me in."
Palmer seems somewhat bemused by the fact he seems to have found his true eye in landscapes. "I have shied away from the landscape because I have been a bit shy about Dad's thing so I have probably avoided it.
"But I always keep coming back to it because I think it is where I am most comfortable. The film and TV industry has been a little bit of a distraction in some ways but it has given me the opportunity to learn at a deep level about film and photography. I have started in the last four or five years to use that knowledge to express my own vision.
"I did some landscapes in Sydney without Dad hanging over my shoulder, then I did more portrait stuff and felt dissatisfied with it. It still felt connected to advertising stuff, so I decided to head back into this kind of work. It was a relief, very easy and clear that that was what I wanted to do."
Palmer was still struggling with his confidence until a couple of years ago when a Sydney friend who works as an arts adviser told him, "Matt, your landscapes are f***ing good, you've got a special thing for the landscape."
He laughs. "Sometimes it takes someone else to point out something that's really obvious. It is really tricky finding your own voice ... that's what I've been looking for."