NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Landscape: Notions of the Spook – Visual Art

by David Usher

This exhibition titled Landscape: Notions of the Spook represents the body of work that makes up half of David Usher’s practice led Doctorate titled Notions of the Spook: Recollections and Nostalgia through personal artist experiences of the contemporary landscape.

While this exhibition is unable to depict three years of thought and making, it has within it, pivotal pieces that have been the starting point for a subsequent body of work (or series of paintings).

David Usher, In the Green Lightning, acrylic on canvas, 2022, 75 x 1050
David Usher, Paradise is On My Mind, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 122 x 92cm
David Usher, Crossing the Night Paths, 2022, oil and acrylic on canvas, 125 x 94cm



Within this practice-led research, I apply a variation to the Australian landscape en plein air painting tradition (Amory, 2007) through my own interpretation of processes and concepts within contemporary landscape practice. My paintings explore landscape narratives instilled with personal artist experiences and memories of place that manifest, through tacit knowledge, a creative presence or affect in an artwork that represents my self-developed concept of the ‘Spook’ as a central enquiry. The ‘Spook’ is best described as a feeling, a creative state that is intuitively informed and honed overtime by the artist and viewer upon encountering the work. The ‘Spook’ in no way manifests as a physical influence or entity upon creative process but rather as a creative awareness prompted by the work and the artmaking process. Investigating the ‘Spook’ as part of the overall creative experience seeks to develop greater creative insights into the artist seeing beyond existing parameters and methods of practice to develop new strategies for intensifying the experience of creative outcomes. Historical en plein air artists, Elisabeth Cummings and Ivon Hitchens and contemporary artists such as Joe Furlonger and Lucy Culliton whose practices utilise an informed understanding of personal experiences and memories of place as subject matter are addressed to inform the idea of manifesting a creative presence in an artwork.

Deploying autoethnography and ethnography as subset methodologies, I unpack the personal narratives within the landscape context, including self and participant reflective journaling and participant surveys as methods. My findings reveal that the ‘Spook’ is an identifiable and adaptable creative principle of practice that can be applied across creative arts, yet the ‘Spook’ is individually experienced at different times, and across diverse creative forms. Key research outcomes reside in the triangulation of the notions of the ‘Spook’ revealed through the relationship developing between the artist, artwork, and the viewer, whereby the ‘Spook’ can empower an experiential creative cognizance that is ever-evolving and ever-transforming.


David Usher Usher’s work focuses on revealing the atmosphere of a landscape through the mediums of paint and clay. His personal experience stems from family connections to remote places in Western Queensland. He applies the paint with force, the painting process deliberately designed to reinterpret the experience of being in the landscape and to evoke a response from the viewer. As Usher states, ‘it’s critical to paint with intent, when I am on the road, working en plein air, I am only interested in capturing the atmosphere of the site rather than a literal representation. My senses and memory are constantly absorbing what is around me but I am not interested in repeating exactly what is already there, rather the aim is to translate the emotion of the experience into paint.’ His approach to mark-making involves working in a studio setting that provides plenty of natural light, music, and the room to work on multiple-surfaces at once. The act of painting is about capturing the immediacy and energy of the scenes encountered in the moment: the shapes, light and mood that have informed the initial en plein air studies. Usher denotes these elusive moments as ‘chasing the spook’, which references the notion of creating work that generates a peculiar dynamic, one in which the work of art continues to reveal new layers to the viewer long after the painted surface has dried. These fleeting instances keep him returning to the studio in pursuit of the unattainable. –– Alexandra Lawson

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