Housing a permanent collection, Reflecting Canberra, and a variety of local, national and international exhibitions, CMAG provides a refreshing insight to the integration of social history and the visual arts.
6 February – 6 June 2010
Ruth Waller was born in Sydney in 1955 and studied painting at Alexander Mackie College in the 1970s. Her early work was informed by feminist and activist perspectives on art and society and in the 1980s she became involved with the production of political and community posters. In 1988 she returned to painting with the exhibition Colony, which addressed the dispossession of Indigenous Australians since European settlement. The following year she exhibited her ‘endangered pawscapes’, which pursued themes of environmental destruction and consequent loss of species.
In the 1990s Waller further developed her interest in the cultural meanings of landscape and late twentieth-century ‘renegotiations of our place in the scheme of things, as creatures both of nature and culture’. The UnNatural history works included fantastic and hybrid forms in nature – real and imagined – and in these and subsequent works the artist continued to examine the complex relationships between humanity and the natural world.
With The hospital paintings in 1994 Waller commenced a close investigation of early Renaissance Italian painting, particularly ‘miracle’ paintings depicting incidents in the lives of saints; her interest was in the allegorical possibilities of these works and how the pictorial space of the paintings represented a transformative space in which planes and lines and pigment ‘miraculously’ convey emotion and meaning. In later works Waller explored northern Renaissance art, the genesis for her intriguing Lamentation and Deposition paintings, whose forms were inspired by the decorative piles of rubbish she encountered in skips in the streets of Barcelona. The Dulle Griet paintings were made after sculptural constructions that represented a figure from Flemish folklore as painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in the sixteenth century, and these ambiguous striding figures are both comic and tragic.
In the last five years Waller has pared back her painting, distilling incident, history and artifice into simple and evocative surfaces that are full of mystery. Illusion and allusion are key to her distinctive art, which is essentially about seeing. Her critical engagement with social and political issues co-exists with a desire to understand how art makes meaning and how painting in particular can continue to have a place in contemporary culture.
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