Alison Mackay, Kim Shannon, Maryanne Wick. The Nature of Things – Still Life Paintings. Julie Bradley. Touchstones. Form Studio and Gallery, 1/30 Aurora Ave, Queanbeyan, Weekdays 9:30am to 2:30pm, Weekends 10am to 4pm, Until November 21.
The still life genre has a long heritage dating back to at least the ancient Greek world and arguably beyond that to Egypt. The term denotes (painted) objects that sit motionless ("still") within a proscribed space. Its French equivalent – "nature morte" ("dead nature") – offers a more direct description of the genre and alludes among other things to the inclusion of foodstuffs that characterise Dutch and Flemish still life paintings that emerged and flourished in the 17th century.
Each of the works in The Nature of Things acknowledges its past but each is very much of its time. Maryanne Wick shows six works that beautifully exemplify the ongoing relevance of the still life genre to contemporary art. Her paintings (oil on variously wood or canvas) display a contemplative stillness reinforced by the careful spatial placements and relationships she establishes in each. The items depicted are familiar and part of the quotidian rituals of daily life. Her palette is always appropriate and helps to imbue the stasis of meditation. The relative geometric simplicity of (most of) her forms is another pictorial device that adds, perhaps conversely, to the rich complexity of her compositions. In Still Life under Lamplight, the dark palette of the anonymous background thrust the linear arrangement of items into the spatial foreground. The darkness also highlights the forms, underscoring their three-dimensionality and simultaneously activating the pictorial space. Movement though is measured and one moves through Wick's still life with a stately gait rather than a lively dance. The use of green in both the background and more obviously in the foreground works very well.
In Still Life in Blue, a selection of blue objects – jugs, a vase, a mug, a chees-knife and others – are aligned with the ubiquitous still life linearity across the painting's mid-ground. The various sizes and forms here present a rhythmical lateral flow, a flow reinforced by, for example, the curved handle of the large jug and the curves of the scissors sitting in the white jar. The use of the anonymous background is again an effective device in establishing the three-dimensionality of the objects.
Alison Mackay's works are full of painterly exuberance and joyful energy. Paint is thick and expressively applied and celebrates the act of painting as much as it celebrates the subject matter of the paintings. Mackay reveals an astute understanding of the use of contrasts through her choice of forms, colours and patterns. These activate the pictorial surface and move the viewer through and around her vital images. Her fish paintings (Cat. 16 to 19 and Cat. 22) are marvellous and alive but the staring fish eyes do evoke the idea of the still life as memento mori (or at least they do for me).
Kim Shannon works between the contrast and elision of abstraction and realism and the subsequent juxtaposition and overlaying of these. She too delights in the act of painting. The variety of her brushstrokes is used to delineate form, light and shadow in ways that speak of the vitality of her activity. I especially liked Family Silver and White Still Life with Gum Nuts. Her pared-down palette of ochres, creams, browns and whites reinforces the abstractness of many of the objects that appear in her works and simultaneously clearly evinces the energetic thrust and collisions of her modes of applying paint.
The Nature of Things is a delightful exhibition with much to captivate the eye. It is a celebratory collaboration that highlights the beauty of the everyday and the ongoing validity of traditional themes and their relevance to contemporary painting.
Julie Bradley's Touchstones is another celebration – a lyrical poem to the interconnections between the realms of the natural world and those of abstract thought. The 12 works in the exhibition are clearly related both formally and aesthetically yet each has its own pictorial autonomy that asserts concurrent connection and individual identity.
The motif of "the stone" lies at the thematic core of this body of work and while its impetus comes from a visit to Barbara Hepworth's studio in England, it is as much informed by myth and symbolism (as held by the rocks) as it is by the genius of Hepworth's organic abstraction. Bradley reveals an excellent understanding of scale in the manner in which she has displayed her work in the small(-ish) gallery space. Again autonomy and interconnectedness coexist in a happy symbiosis that denies neither. She combines contrasts, overlaying, outline, depth and transparency in images of immanence that intimate memory and personal symbolism and myth. Her ability to imbue the work (see, for example, Greenman stones, Tiny dolmen and St Ives still life) with the feeling of floating forms is always nicely grounded with the insertion of a concomitant element of depth and solidity. The darker palette of Balancing stones in the fog, combined with an increase in lithic presence, adds an air of mystery.
For me, the last six works on display (Cat. 7-12) are the most powerful and effective. The drama of the gestural calligraphic brushstrokes swirling across the surface imbues movement and energy and acts as a defiant visual foil to the dense black ground. The layered floating elements are both ephemeral and indicators of the fugitive quality of myth and symbol as they (re-)appear throughout our lives. This is another celebratory exhibition and a pleasure to visit.
The story Still life paintings and natural world delight at Form Gallery in Queanbeyan first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.