pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts - Bron­wyn Wat­son

Ros­alie Gas­coigne, All Sum­mer Long, 1995-96. Bendigo Art Gallery, Vic­to­ria. On dis­play un­til June 30.

ROS­ALIE Gas­coigne’s ca­reer as an artist was rather un­con­ven­tional. She had no for­mal art ed­u­ca­tion, she openly ad­mit­ted she couldn’t draw or paint and she held her first solo ex­hi­bi­tion at age 57. Yet only four years af­ter that first ex­hi­bi­tion she was given an im­por­tant sur­vey show at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria, then in 1982 rep­re­sented Aus­tralia at the Venice Bi­en­nale, the first fe­male artist to do so. When she died in 1999, at 82, she was still work­ing, cre­at­ing im­por­tant works and plan­ning a show in Spain.

Gas­coigne was born in New Zealand in 1917 and moved to Aus­tralia in 1943 with her hus­band, an as­tronomer. They lived in the small, iso­lated sci­en­tific com­mu­nity of the Mount Stromlo ob­ser­va­tory, just out­side Can­berra.

Gas­coigne found it sti­fling; she felt lonely and re­stricted by the 1950s role of the do­mes­ti­cated wife. To help her cope, she found so­lace in the dry Aus­tralian land­scape. She’d walk around the moun­tain, push­ing her chil­dren’s prams and col­lect­ing found ob­jects, which she dis­played in her home.

When the fam­ily moved to the Can­berra sub­urb of Deakin in 1960, she con­tin­ued her in­ter­est in col­lect­ing and dis­play­ing ob­jects. For seven years she stud­ied ike­bana, the Ja­panese tra­di­tion of flower ar­rang­ing; ap­pre­ci­at­ing its rig­or­ous dis­ci­pline.

In the mid-60s, when her three chil­dren were older, Gas­coigne first ex­per­i­mented with as­sem­blages. She trav­elled around the coun­try scav­eng­ing ma­te­ri­als from the bush or from rub­bish tips. She col­lected wooden soft-drink crates, cor­ru­gated iron, yel­low and orange glow-in-the-dark road signs and lino; any­thing weath­ered and worn.

One work made from these re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als is All Sum­mer Long, which is in the col­lec­tion of Vic­to­ria’s Bendigo Art Gallery. Com­pleted when Gas­coigne was 79, it’s cre­ated from wooden Sch­weppes soft­drink crates.

In 1978 Gas­coigne chanced upon a huge stash of these yel­low crates weath­ered by their ex­po­sure to the sun and rain. She said she liked the gold of the crates be­cause she saw it as one of the clas­si­cal colours.

In All Sum­mer Long the wooden slats of the crates have been cut into sliv­ers and re­assem­bled into rhyth­mic hor­i­zon­tal bands. This grid al­ter­nates from fields of yel­low to clut­tered masses of worn and faded black let­ter­ing fea­tur­ing the word Sch­weppes.

Gas­coigne once said that her ‘‘ big love’’ was po­etry and All Sum­mer Long has been de­scribed as vis­ual po­etry be­cause of the way she aims to cap­ture the essence of a feel­ing, mem­ory or ex­pe­ri­ence, in this case the re­lent­less heat of an Aus­tralian sum­mer’s day.

Tansy Curtin, the cu­ra­tor at Bendigo Art Gallery, says this is a very large work for Gas­coigne and it is un­usual to have such a large work in a re­gional gallery col­lec­tion. It was pur­chased by for­mer di­rec­tor Tony Ell­wood to com­mem­o­rate the of­fi­cial open­ing of the gallery’s rede­vel­op­ment in 1998. (Ell­wood is now di­rec­tor of the Queens­land Art Gallery and Gallery of Mod­ern Art).

‘‘ All Sum­mer Long is typ­i­cal of Gas­coigne’s style, with the won­der­ful found ob­jects and that at­ten­tion to de­tail,’’ Curtin says. ‘‘ It is so beau­ti­ful even though it is rough, sawn bits of tim­ber. As well, I think it is quite chal­leng­ing, which is one thing that I love about her work.

‘‘ Peo­ple look at it and think: ‘ It is just Sch­weppes crates’, but that is the beauty of it. It gets peo­ple think­ing about it and imag­ing it as well.

‘‘ I also love the rhythm of it, the way she has got the al­ter­nat­ing words and the plain yel­low blocks, and you get a sense of the heat of the Aus­tralian sum­mer.’’

Acrylic on wood, 122cm x 518cm. RHS Ab­bott Be­quest Fund 1996

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