Monday 11 July 2011

Rosalie Gascoigne

After my recent post on Helen Frankenthaler, I thought I’d take a look at the work of another female artist – quite different, but one whose work follows on neatly from that of Christopher Wool, featured in my last posting.

Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 – 1999) was a New Zealander – Australian sculptor. She showed at the Venice Biennale in 1982, becoming the first female artist to represent Australia there. In 1994 she was awarded the Order of Australia for her services to the arts.

Gascoigne was born Rosalie Norah King Walker in Auckland, New Zealand. She emigrated to Canberra, Australia in 1943 at the age of 26 to marry astronomer S. C. B (Ben) Gascoigne, later to become an eminent professor, and set up home in the isolated scientific community of Mount Stromlo.

In the late 1960s she started experimenting with small scrap iron sculptures and later wooden boxed assemblages, all composed of materials she found while on scavenging expeditions in the Canberra hinterland. She learnt to love the "boundless space and solitude" of her new home. Much of her art reflects this, though some also harks back to her roots in New Zealand.

1977 Sir Bagby 
 Gascoigne was strongly encouraged by artist Michael Taylor and by James Mollison, then director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, who spotted her distinctive artistic talents early. Her first serious exhibition was at Ann Lewis's Gallery A in Paddington, Sydney, in 1974, when Gascoigne was 57; it was an instant success, and a mere four years later she had become a major figure in the Australian art world, with a survey at the National Gallery of Victoria. Her assemblages moved through many stages, to a certain extent dictated by the colours and types of materials she was currently interested in.

She said that her art-making materials "need to have been open to the weather." She thus used mostly found materials: wood, iron, wire, feathers, and most famously yellow and orange retro-reflective road signs, which flash and glow in the light. Some of her other best-known works use faded, once-bright drinks crates; thinly-sliced yellow Schweppes boxes; ragged domestic items such as torn floral lino and patchy enamelware; vernacular building materials such as galvanised tin, corrugated iron and masonite; and fibrous, rosy cable reel ends. These objects represent, rather than accurately depict, elements of her world. "The countryside's discards ... no longer suggest themselves but evoke experiences, particularly of landscape.”

Text is another important element of her work; she would cut up and rearrange the faded, naive lettering found on these items to create abstract yet evocative grids of letters and word fragments, sometimes alluding to the crosswords and poetry of which she was so fond. Knowledgeable and widely read, she was inspired amongst others by the artists Colin McCahon, Ken Whisson, Dick Watkins and Robert Rauschenberg. However gradually both colour and text seemed to fade from her work, and in her final years she created meditative, elegiac compositions of white or earth-brown panels.

1999 Earth 4 
sawn builders form wood

Although working vigorously into her 80s, with occasional help from an assistant, her age at the height of her success precluded the travelling that would have been necessary to build the international audience her work deserved.

Although she exhibited occasionally overseas - including the 1982 Venice Biennale (the first Australian woman to do so), Switzerland and Sweden as well as throughout Asia - the major holdings of her work remain in Australia and New Zealand, both of which claim her as their own. 

Fine examples of Gascoigne's oeuvre can be found in most Antipodean galleries; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, owns one of her smaller pieces.
Rosalie Gascoigne died in Canberra in 1999.

1976 The Colonel's Lady 
mixed media

1976 Triptych 
mixed media

1980-1 Untitled (12 squares of 6) 
sawn weathered wood

1984 Untitled (25 scallop shells)

1985 Pineapple Pieces No. 4

1988 Painted Words 
spray painted masonite on plywood

1989 Tesserae 1 
sawn / split soft drink crates on plywood

1990-2 Regimental Colours (B) 
sawn / split soft drink crates on plywood

1992 Port of Call 
cut tea crates and weathered formwork on plywood

1992 Text 
sawn / split soft drink crates on plywood

1992-3 Rose Red City #6 
corrugated iron on wood

1993 Lily Pond 
linoleum and plywood

1993-4 White City 
wood on craft-board

1994 Bread and Butter 
sawn wood on craft-board

1994 Compound 
timber and masonite

1994-5 The Apple Isle 
sawn wood on craft-board

1995 Gentlemen of Japan 
retro reflective road sign on craft-board

1995 White Garden 
corrugated iron on wood

1998 Full Fathom Five 
sawn wood on wood

1998 Magpie 
sawn wood on wood

1998 Tartan 
sawn wood on wood

1999 Metropolis 
retro reflective road-sign on wood

1999 Parasol 
retro reflective road-sign on wood

1999 Valentine 
retro reflective road-sign on wood

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