Benalla Art Gallery – Revolutionary Visions of Women, Review

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Margaret Preston, 1875 – 1963, Bridge pylon from ferry boat, NSW, 1932, Hand coloured woodcut on paper, Bennett Bequest, 2000

The Benalla Art Gallery uniquely located amid the beautiful Botanical Gardens on the shores of Lake Benalla is the perfect setting for the exhibition Revolutionary Visions of Women, showcasing female artists from the gallery’s permanent collection on show until February 21, 2016.

The display is a very fine tribute to the tenacity and vibrancy of artistic practice and experimentation by Australian female artists, from the late nineteenth century through to the present day.

Australia’s foremost woman painter between the wars Margaret Preston (1875 – 1963) applied her experimental techniques based on a study of Aboriginal art, to the powerfully expressive Bridge pylon from the ferry boat, N.S.W., that originated from her Sydney Harbour Bridge series. The hand coloured woodcut on paper innovatively explores the geometric configuration of a section of the bridge.

Benalla Art Gallery

Benalla Art Gallery

The strong bold black lines were structured to create an inimitable arrangement, where the powder blue sky and cobalt harbour waters strengthened the vigour and dramatic intention of the artwork.

This exhibition honoured the foresight of Mrs Erma Ledger (wife of the major benefactor) and Mr Laurance Ledger for their encouragement and passion about purchasing significant artworks by Australian women artists.

This visionary prudence has continued to be nurtured through artist donations, major public and private bequests and fund raising by the Friends of Benalla Art Gallery . This inspiring exhibition celebrates the extraordinary and diverse talents of both established and emerging Indigenous and non-Indigenous women artists.

Clara Southern

Clara Southern (1860-1940), artist, was born on 3 October 1860 at Kyneton, Victoria

It is testament to the major significance and prominent place of female artists in the history and development of Australian art.

A diverse range of artistic ideas images and techniques permeates the photography, painting, sculpture and works on paper in these dynamic and powerful artworks.

A rural scene captured a home comfortably nestled within its natural environment and cushioned by the surrounding Australian bush in The Artist’s Home, is an oil on canvas by Victorian born artist Clara Southern (1860 – 1940).

She was the first woman to be a member and a committee-member of the Australian Art Association founded in Melbourne in 1912.

Clara Southern’s commitment to the Heidelberg School directed and informed the impressionistic approach to her artistic practice.

Some of her works are also held by the the National Gallery of Victoria.

Her composition on show not only denoted life in the Australian bush but was a historical record of the place where many famous Australian artists, including Tom Roberts, gathered.

They shared friendship and painted artworks that typified the bush and the effects of the harsh sunlight.

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Beautiful wisps of leafless trees and the yellow shades of the bush caressed by the light is released in the tones of paint applied, and with the fall of shadows.

Early morning picking (no.1) is by Margaret Benoit (b.1941 – ) who caught the motion of bodies at work.

The drooping heads and bent figures are totally absorbed in gathering the harvest.

In this rural vista the dew is wispily portrayed, with a textural and colour palette that reproduced the beams of first morning light.

The details of the countless shapes and colours of leaves adroitly rendered in oils, contrast with the richly dark undergrowth.

The figures merge into the landscape, and the coherence and simplicity of country life infuses every element of the artwork.

In Isabella – the artist’s granddaughter, a portrait by Constance Stokes (1906 – 1991) reveals skilfully the joy and innocence of childhood, coupled with an inquisitive playful personality.

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Constance Stokes, 1906 – 1991, Isabella – the artist’s grandaughter, n.d., Oil on canvas on plywood, Ledger Gift, 1985

The soft muted apricot and pastel green oils tenderly enriched this charming artwork.

Isabella’s hazel eyes are deepened by the mellow brown hues of her sun hat, and the shadow it casts across her sweet face.

The simplicity and succinctness of the pencil and charcoal drawing in Grace Crowley’s The Boy and his dog was mesmerizing.

The minimalist markings created fluidity both in the foreground and the more expansive pastoral panorama.

The candour and honesty of the lined drawing movingly suggested the languor of the dog and the contemplation of the boy.

The figures connection to the land was sympathetically interpreted.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (1910 – 1996) was one of the most prominent and significant artists in the history of contemporary Indigenous Australian art.

She came from the Utopia community in the Northern Territory. Black horizontal lines defined the lyrical painting Untitled (Awelye).

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Emily Kame Kngwarreye, c. 1910 – 1996, Untitled (Awelye), 1994, Ink and gouache on paper, Purchased by the Friends of Benalla Art Gallery, 1995

The strokes in the bottom left hand corner of the work were bathed in a wash of dark aqua that filtered movement and communicated place.

The sacredness of the land was etched in the rhythmical flow of the contours, a wave of poetry lapped across the structure of the artwork.

Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 1999( did not express herself as an artist until she was fifty seven years of age and Husbandry, 1977, came from this initial period of creativity.

She said in Janet Hawley ‘Artists in Conversation’;

“I don’t start with an idea, I start by playing around with the materials; then something will happen.

I’ll see something that triggers a memory of a strong emotional response somewhere inside me, then the art starts to happen. My art is about what I feel about what I see – that makes it universal.”

The juxtaposition of natural materials with glass domes paradoxically integrated characteristics of the paddock and its management. Her distinguishing style and vision of the landscape was distinctively emerging in this artwork.

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Rosalie Gascoigne, 1917 – 1999, Husbandry, 1977, Wood, cardboard, galvanised iron, glass and vegetable matter Gift of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, 1984

She constructed a cupboard where the horizontal planes of the shelves were reminiscent of the layers within the landscape she so dearly loved.

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Inge King, Born 1918, Berlin, Trio, 1972, Painted steel, Gift of the artist, 2004

 

German born (b.1915 – ) Inge King, throughout the 20th century, became a major contributor to the development of sculpture in Australia

Her monumental and remarkable public sculptural works can be seen across the country.

The elements of line and form were conceived with her hard edged architectural style in Trio from 1972.

Three painted steel cylinders supported a sphere- like hollow eye shape viewing the world, an arched line reaching out and a third more conventional closed shape.

The curved signature component repeated in all structures solidified the arrangement and invited the viewer to walk around the sculpture.

In Yvonne Audette’s Harbour lights, Cantata series, blue and green tints were painted in small rectangular blocks to create depth and the deposits of colour were artistically intensified by the placement of blue/black markings.

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Yvonne Audette, Born 1930, Sydney, Lives and works in Melbourne, Harbour lights, Cantata series, 1968-69, Oil on composition board

Scattered orange and yellow blocks of colour exposed light and lit the painting with a warm glow.

This painterly abstract was boundless in its reflection of the complexity of shapes and the suppleness of intuitive brush strokes.

The landscape was discerningly depicted in the large expanses of pastel shades coated with white tones in Evelyn Crocker’s Landscape in detail.

A non-figurative merging of the elements of sky, cloud, earth and sea was serenely orchestrated and conceptual in intention.

The eloquently restrained abstract defined the landscape and impregnated it with a harmonious beauty.

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Evelyn Crocker, Born 1948, Uganda, Arrived 1959, Australia, Landscape in detail, 1993, Gouache, graphite, conte and pastel on paper, Purchased by the Friends of Benalla Art Gallery, 1994

This exhibition unequivocally supported the belief that Australian women have excelled in the field of art.

Women artists are fundamental to Australian art’s development historically.

Their contribution shines in the exhibition Revolutionary Visions of Women at Benalla Art Gallery, which celebrates the richness and diversity of Australian female artists at the forefront of the modern movement in Australia.

Rose Niland, NSW Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Benalla Art Gallery
Revolutionary Visions of Women
5 December 2015 – 21 February 2016

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