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