Judith Wright: A quiet proposal - Art Collector

Issue 58, October - December 2011

Judith Wright’s latest body of work is a quiet whisper in the ear, writes Gillian Serisier. Her paintings and sculptures are both an invitation and a proposal, beckoning you to touch, move and, most importantly, breath.

Encountering the work of Judith Wright for the first time is somehow akin to breathing. Second and third encounters continue the sensation, for while repeat viewings lead the viewer into a perpetually expanding opus through tangents of thought and physicality, they remain innately centred around the body and breath.

Wright’s large works on paper float on the wall, held by pins driven straight through the tissue of the paper, her preferred medium. These majestic works – in deep shades of ochre or with powdery white textural shifts – convey the sweeping curve of an arm at full stretch. Whether overlapping or singular, the image emits sombre calm, yet the attachment to humanity is palpable and far from the cool aesthetic position that works of such minimal undertakings generally convey.
They are, in fact, sublimely beautiful but while the large works on paper and linen are undeniably paintings, this is not how the artist sees herself. “I don’t really think that I am a painter as such; line and form have always been more important to me than colour, for instance,” says Wright, whose work is closely engaged with her previous career as a classical ballerina. Similarly, there are strong correlations between her installations and assemblages, which create a dialogue between form and spatial placement that relates directly to the position of a body on the stage. The video works – such as One Dances (2003) and Between (2007) – most obviously demonstrate this relationship where Wright has used dance postures to convey dualities of intimacy and discord. It is also clearly evident in the relationship between her works and the human body, particularly the larger works. “The scale comes back to the body,” Wright explains. “The scale of everything is predicated on the body and that is a direct reference to my other life in dancing.”

Having worked on paper for much of her career, Wright’s most recent body of work Propositions II, which has been exhibited at Grantpirrie in Sydney and will this quarter be on view at Sophie Gannon Gallery in Melbourne, introduces the medium of linen. What has previously made paper so suited to Wright is its very ability to be scarred. Effectively, Wright uses the fragility of the paper’s surface to expose the passage of time through the scuffed, scrunched and wrinkled surface. Shifting to linen, however, has resulted in an entirely new set of surfaces. “I’m on a journey at the moment, investigating these different surfaces and material,” Wright says. “It is all a possibility.”

Wright has also produced a series of large acrylic works on Japanese paper in deep velvety brown, which read as a continuation of her interest in dualities of fragility and strength, dark and light, being and not being. Small bronze sculptures are also being exhibited. The pairing represents an oppositional scale, contrasting the full stretch of the body, evidenced in the scale of the paintings, with the intimacy of the sculptures, which are meant to be held in the hand.

Wright has based the bronze works on her exploration of myths, specifically Pliny the Elder’s myth of the origin of art and Plato’s cave allegory, a description of the nature of knowledge. “I think what these things allowed me to do was to continue an investigation into the unconscious and the fluidity of stasis,” she says. For Wright, whose work usually takes personal experience as its point of departure, this research has introduced a new dimension. And while her themes and research deal with the dark recesses of the unconscious, her works are also incredibly whimsical and physically compelling. No matter how well the audience might know the rules of exhibition, hands continuously reach out to touch these objects – something Wright sees as not only acceptable but desired. Tactility, along with movement, smell and presence, are just as important as the visual aspects of her work as they connect directly with the viewer. “What I try to do is engage with the individual … rather than the collective,” says Wright. “I’m not trying to make a universal statement.”

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