Out of Winter at Bendigo Art Gallery – Rose Niland’s Review

Bendigo-Art-Gallery-FacadeOut of Winter an exhibition by Karen Annett-Thomas, hangs impressively on the walls of a large exhibition space at the Bendigo Art Gallery in a centrally sited city, integral to the development of Victoria.

The gallery was recently extended making it the largest regional gallery in Australia. It houses a diverse collection of Australian Colonial Paintings as well as European Collections.

However my eyes were unreservedly drawn to an evocative contemporary collection of paintings by local artist Karen Annett-Thomas.

The Darwin Regret series of five majestic, yet unexpectedly contemplative works resonated deeply with a very refined artistic sensibility and intrinsically perceptive imagery.

The silence of snow ebbed and flowed in the composed rhythms of the structural distinctions within the paintings and created the mind and memory of winter.

This series was not motionless but moved with the intensity and subtlety of the sky. The softness translucency and crystalline nature of snow was etched in the layers of paint.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, November 2035, 2014, Oil, beeswax and plaster on canvas (Photograph by Ian Hill)

The paintings fervently constructed memory and their painterly surfaces belied the depth of snow that was painstakingly constructed through skilled application and playful experimentation.

The paint was thick, dense and layered a metaphor for time.

The tactile coatings were formed by combining a variety of media including beeswax, oil paint and plaster. The dynamic sculptural surfaces were deeply informed by landscape in this tacit series of paintings.

Karen Annett-Thomas wrote “In the landscape I stand on the threshold, looking over my shoulder into the past and peering urgently into the future. Here is the doorway, if I look down at my feet, I can catch just for a moment, the fleeting present. For it is a threshold we are all moving through; we cannot pause here, not even for a moment.”

Conjuring memory required discipline.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, Darwin’s regret #1, 2015, Oil, beeswax and kaolin on linen (Photograph by Ian Hill)

The recollections of winter lost in the snows of the past was carefully recreated to integrate the present in these powerfully alluring artworks.

Ethereal imagery and the agitated fluttering of the bird created movement, change and a sense of the continuity of time.

Darwin’s regret #1 was a layered composition that combined words, symbols and Karen’s characteristically abstract techniques of not completely delineating form.

The dark blue winged body travelled through the layers of ever moving time and invited the viewer on the journey. The past was observed through the fragment of a distant flight echoed in the shadow of wingspan.

The movement of the brushstrokes twirling, swirling and dripping also denoted the passage of time and the pieces of memory drifted waiting to be recalled.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, Darwin’s regret #2, 2015, Oil, beeswax and kaolin on linen (Photograph by Ian Hill)

The optimism of rediscovery was etched into every stroke of the bird’s upward flight in Darwin’s regret #2.

It was as if the shadows and mists of the subliminal had been evaded and freedom to explore and connect past memories to the present moment was a sublime possibility.

Again the painterly surface of the artwork filtered introspection and the whirl of how quickly experiences fade.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, Darwin’s regret #5, 2015, Oil, beeswax and kaolin on linen (Photograph by Ian Hill)

The bird dived deep into the unchartered and dangerous territory of the future in Darwin’s regret #4.

The immense churn of the snow exploded with an ominous note of disaster.

Danger, courage, realigning life, memories and the future ruthlessly challenged the human spirit to rediscover, survive and redefine the future in this dramatic painting.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, Darwin’s regret #5, 2015, Oil, beeswax and kaolin on linen (Photograph by Ian Hill)

In Darwin’s regret #5 the brush strokes were imbued with lyrical movement that sang of exploration.

The direction of the bird’s flight on the left of the painting was reinforced on the right side by a compelling thick wide downward brush stroke.

The black eye of the present peered out of the layers of paint and gazed on the bird’s quest as it dived beyond the surface of memory.

The rhythm of the artwork was intensified by the fine expressive lines that were scratched to touch the underlying surface of the composition.

The complexity of time was explored and exposed in the intensely personal creations of the Darwin’s regret series.

The landscape was inherently connected and informed and framed past memories, transitory present moments and future disquieting projections.

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Karen Annett-Thomas, September 2035, 2014, Oil, beeswax and plaster on canvas (Photograph by Ian Hill)

This theme of future threats was more sharply conjured in September 2035 where geometric blocks were encrusted with an over lay of words ‘and it broke then,’ like windows into the future.

The bird motive was upside down precariously hanging suggesting ruthless destruction, a catastrophe, a war between the natural environment and the man made world.

A threat to survival loomed in the very essence of the textural painted strokes however the eye of the bird remained steadfast, not submissive but protective.

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Karen Annett-Thomas August 2035, 2014, Oil and beeswax on canvas (Photograph by Ian Hill)

In August 2035 place was resonant as the bird perceived the damask pink patina of the earth as contrasted with the turbulence of the tarnished winter sky.

The uplifting suspension and structure of the bird’s outstretched wings hovered between optimism and scepticism, trying to marry misgivings and truth poignantly.

Anxiety, confusion, anarchy were carved into the words, texture, paint and cowering bird as it gripped with the reality of destruction and desolation in November 2035.

Again the surge of a painful foray into the future was edged with the endless courage and dignity required to survive.

Karen Annett- Thomas executed movement of flight, a passage of time with an astute intuition and a haunting technique.

The abstract application of ideas and practices surged in her paintings.

Light and life abounded as she purposely wrestled with the complexity of time.

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

Out of Winter
Karen Annett-Thomas
Bendigo Art Gallery
28 November 2015 – 21 February 2016

Read Rose’s Interview with Artist Karen Annett-Thomas

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