Fast Mountains, Slow Birds

Jaqueline Houghton

The title of Seabastion Toast’s new body of work embodies the notion of a fleeting, intangible ‘present’. Thought provoking, the apparent contradiction in its conjunction of words serves to liberate the imagination from the confines of convention and a linear reality. “I have a long standing interest in the tension and spaces between dichotomies,” she remarks. “It’s to do with perception. I like the enigmatic title of the show because it speaks of the subjective nature of time; the impermanence of things, the briefly wondrous.”
Not only has Seabastion travelled widely throughout Australia but also to the far off countries of Iceland and Norway. She has trekked the wildernesses of Nepal, Indonesia and Japan absorbing the ancient cultural heritages. Experiences encountered resonated with her innate understandings and responses to life and art where the world is discerned as a series of processes rather than a collection of entities. Seabastion’s recent paintings however have been inspired by the landscapes she now daily sees when running and surfing. 
An amalgam of physical topography and a state of mind and being, Seabastion’s art conveys no sense of alienation. Form, space, colour and light become simultaneously resolved in an immediacy of gesture. “I love starting a painting, there is so much energy and no expectation,” she declares. “Beginnings are fresh and pregnant with possibilities. Finishing them is more demanding and the critical eye can step in and destroy things.” Seabastion tells that she works on several paintings at once in an attempt to retain some of the initial energy. The very slow drying of the oil medium ironically facilitates her dynamic approach. Revisiting the works some weeks later, it is with a renewed vitality. 
“I think about how erosion makes a mountain or coastline beautiful and similarly, it is the imperfections in a flower, or an artwork, that give it its allure,” she muses. “I am searching for the essential rhythms. The works are usually built up in layers and go through a transformative procedure. It’s more like sculpting than painting as the forms are carved out, broken down and built back up again. There is a pulling between the detail of the subject and its broader impact: a zooming in then stepping back to encompass the whole. I am hoping this practice more accurately reflects the lived experience of the subject rather than producing its photographic rendering.”
The landscapes are multi-dimensional meditations. Not literal translations, they aspire to involve the viewer in the artist’s immersive encounters. Although Seabastion’s land and seascapes are based on actual locations they transcend specificity of place. Painted from memory, the Sky Running work evokes the majesty of Victoria’s Mount Feathertop. Away in the distance, shimmering in purple hues, the Snowy Mountains can be glimpsed. “When cross-country skiing, one is alone amidst a vast expanse of whiteness,” Seabastion recalls. “The snow seems so silent but when you focus on the lack of sound there opens up a symphony of crackings and drips - the visual experience is similar. It’s so wild out there but the area holds a great spiritual resonance for me. I grew up walking and skiing with my family in the Victorian High Plains.” 
Several paintings reference the far northern NSW locale where Seabastion now resides. The exhilaration of being “in the suspended moment” when time seems to simultaneously slow and expand is captured on canvas with aplomb. In the work, Big Sky, a burst of brilliant light cleaves the storm-laden clouds. Far below, the earth is briefly ablaze in fragmented colour.  Looking South is a wonderfully resolved composition. Again an intense shaft of white light sets the picture in motion. Flashes of pink simulate the cycle of energy radiating across the coastal vista. Conversely, Seabastion describes the Back Paddock work as simply, “a quiet painting about rain”.
It is perhaps surprising to find images of flowers in this exhibition but Seabastion explains that her affinity with flowers developed in childhood. Her nanna, mother and aunt were all very much involved with quite extraordinary gardens – her aunt is president of one of Australia’s oldest gardening communities based in the Dandenong Ranges. The flowers depicted in these works have been plucked from Seabastion’s own burgeoning garden, or given by her husband as gifts when he intuits she is in a creative slump. “Like landscape, floral arrangements can open up a whole other realm of abstract and painterly possibilities,” she comments. “It’s almost like the benignity of the subject is a challenge for a more energetic and intellectual exploration of composition and texture.” Although Seabastion describes the subjects as musings on the nature of vanitas - the transience of beauty and life – they are nevertheless evinced with characteristic gusto. “We are all in some form of flux and I guess I am seeking the poetry of that.”
Seabastion is an artist who feels the visual situation. Decisions are made by intuition, trusting in the flow of creative power. Her expressive spontaneity is however not mere caprice but equates to what she terms “painting air” – the capturing of a moment when the internal and external manifest in unison. Her works exemplify the adage ‘I am in the landscape and the landscape is in me’.