Of Colour and Light

Biennial of Victoria’s Women Abstract Artists
curated by Anna Prifti
5 – 27 October 2018
West End Art Space
185 Rosslyn Street, West Melbourne, Victoria, 3003, Australia

Hours: Wednesday - Friday: 11am - 4pm; Saturday: 10am - 3pm
Opening: 6 October 2-5pm
Opening Address: Kate Nodrum at 3 pm from Charles Nodrum Gallery


Installation view r-l: Fran O’Neill, Cath Muhling, Ros Esplin, Elisabeth Bodey, Vanessa Oter, Tracy Coutts

Installation view: Fiona Halse, Jennifer Goodman, Louise Blyton, Wendy Kelly

Installation view: Melinda Harper, Louise Blyton

Thinking of abstraction and the aspect of colour has led me to contemplate and reflect upon the many pathways that we might follow in doing so; the how, when, where, and why of making paintings. Seemingly a pathway without end. However, this path has often been at the expense of the contributions made by women artists who haven’t received the notice they deserve. It is the intention of this exhibition to enhance this conversation and to demonstrate again their contribution to the extraordinarily diverse nature of abstraction.

Colour and light draw us with considerable delight into an artist’s work, inviting us to explore their intentions and delve into the aesthetics of abstraction. The works in this exhibition exemplify a range of styles from the reductive and hard-edged to the more lyrical and intuitive; reductive, non- objective, concrete and neo-concrete, minimalist or the lyrical and expressive. There many tracks along that pathway. Artists have over time arrived at very much individual manifestations in their practice of abstraction.

In addition to the pursuit of formal or lyrical abstraction, artists also have drawn on other disciplines such as science or music, exploring these aspects in conjunction with their own practice to create new forms. Or their exploration may have led them to investigate different cultural forms. Whatever the artist’s position, the works in this exhibition demonstrate the capacity to combine materiality and conceptual thought to create diverse abstract responses. Their explorations demonstrate the questioning, the responding and ‘becoming’ in the process of making these works.

Colour is made up of wavelengths of light with each being a different colour. The colour of an object consists of the different wavelengths of light that it reflects. Its colour is also informed by the visual cortex of the observer’s brain and the colour she thinks it should be. It is interesting therefore to consider artists individual colour experiences and, in the making of a painting, how this personal experience of a colour is then mixed and transferred to a surface. The process is further enriched when considering specific colour or hues as there are many different versions of each. For example, red might be a pyrrole red dark or a light cadmium red. Looking at the colour wheel, there is both red- orange and red-violet but there are also numerous tints and shades of red.

When considering the effect of light on both the colour and its object for example as it changes through the course of a day and in different conditions, this requires in the rendering of subject matter the careful observation of the relatedness of shades and tones to light and the object. For the abstract artist the colour response might be a less literal, more perceptual one; the equivalent of received perceptions and sensations. She responds to formal colour relationships but also sees colour in action and acknowledges the interdependence of colour with its compositional placement and form.

As an attribute of appearance most things embody colour, its subtlety determined by the objects around it. For some colours, the material and tactile quality of the ‘being’ of a work comes from its capacity to communicate sensations, made by reflected light and creating a nuanced surface that is sublime or perhaps dynamic. In addition, these resonances received might originate in sound and noise, in light and the colours of weather or other aspects of landscape or place. Or it can be pre-determined by the artist’s specific ideas and completely unrelated to the physical world; colour as a supposition, so colour acting as an adjunct to the thought/form.

With monochrome abstract painting, colour stands alone and potent, as the ‘object’ and just ‘of itself’ though equally as complex as the careful consideration required in the placement of multiple colours in a deliberately patterned composition, or one that is arrived at by chance in a more immediate process of making. A focus on flat blacks or greys in painting might represent an attempt to rebut any sensation at all. Where colour dissolves, reduces, subverts the physical, the removal of what is inessential, it might be replaced by the geometric, by conceptual or intellectual processes or, on another level, the metaphysical ‘revealing’ of the essence of thought. The removal of ‘distracting’ sensations of colour, its beguiling nature, and an acceptance of simple form may open the way for a purity of conversation regarding this painted object. This leads me then into territory literally off the painted surface.

The relationship of colour to space is an interesting one. In addition to conventional and formal pictorial spatial relationships in determining its placement, we might consider extending the space of a painting to that beyond its surface area and how colour might engage with this notion. Within and outside the boundaries of the painted surface, the intention might be to subvert or reduce the conventional physical aspects of a work in favour of utilising the sensation or idea of space beyond or outside the object and so expand our experience of the idea of a painted work.

It is apparent that abstraction raises many questions and possibilities due to its capacity to communicate in multiple ways. How many readings of an artist’s work can there be? How many constructs and what might both the artist and the viewer bring to a work from their own experience? How can painting’s history contribute to this dialogue? For some, the experience of sheer pleasure might be enough. The ongoing interest in critiquing, re-viewing and expanding abstract practices, looking outward, bringing objects and digital forms into consideration and so encouraging new expressions, will continue to expand the abstract conversation in contemporary practice. Essay, Dr Elisabeth Bodey 2018