Rowena Boyd: Waves of Honey and Other People’s Houses. ANCA Gallery, 1 Rosevear Place, Dickson. Until February 24.
Confession: I had never heard of Rowena Boyd – a Sydney-born, Canberra-based painter in her 20s – when I walked into her exhibition at ANCA, but I was immediately struck by the power of her work.
It was an ambush to the senses – striking in its deep chromatic range, by the sense of the tactile and visceral, plus the sweet aroma of beeswax that prevailed throughout the entire show.
As a whole, her exhibition is a seductive and absorbing experience. It is like a deliberate invitation to melt into her pieces, lose yourself and depart from a simple visual engagement into a somatic experience that operates on a non-verbal level.
The exhibition consists of 11 largish, non-figurative paintings on panel executed in the painstaking encaustic wax technique that has been worked up into a quite high-relief texture. Each individual lick of paint mixed with wax has been allowed to grow until it has developed its own physical presence – like a miniature jungle of ridges of paint – and all of these are rhythmically arranged as if responding to some metaphysical power or a non-terrestrial breeze.
The enigmatic title to the exhibition, Waves of Honey and Other People’s Houses, hints at a reality, but not to a specificity that is revealed to the viewer. The titles to the individual paintings probe the sensuous and include Stay soft, The big blue, Dig deep, Little oceans, Hot colours, Harvest moon and The dog star. As a viewer you move from one absorbing experience to the next, progressively losing a perspective on your physical presence in the gallery space.
The effectiveness of her paintings, that lifts them out of the category of pattern-making eye candy, is their sense of presence that engages with us on a human scale and directly manipulates our senses.
In some ways, I am reminded of the work of Asher Bilu, the veteran artist still working in Melbourne and creating his tactile abstract paintings mainly employing resin and pigment. Bilu’s work operates on a visual and, to some extent, a spiritual level, while Boyd’s encaustic creations are more down to earth, more material in their perception and much more sensuous. It is difficult to resist the temptation to touch, smell and even lick the surfaces of her paintings.
The first encounter with Rowena Boyd’s art is quite an unforgettable experience. It is an encounter with a thinking artist who has the wit and patience to advance her particular field of vision. I look forward to seeing her next show.