Ildiko Kovacs: The DNA of colour. ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton. Wednesday to Sunday 10am-5pm. Until August 11.
Ildiko Kovacs is a Sydney-based painter in her mid-50s who in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Bulgari Art Award at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Kovacs, who was born in Sydney of Hungarian ancestry, is predominantly a non-figurative painter who in her early work took permission from the art of Tony Tuckson with a rather messy, bold, expressionist style of painting. Later, there was a fairly radical revision in her art as she turned markedly more minimalist, not unlike the artists from East Kimberley and the Warmun community, especially Rover Thomas. It is at this stage in her art that line starts to play an increasingly important role in her practice.
About 2008, Kovacs switched from employing brushes to commercial painting rollers with oil paint applied to a resistant plywood surface. The rollers apply their own sense of discipline with broader bands and swirls of colour. The technique combats the artist's direct control so there is a greater rawness and the tendency for the facile line and predictable composition to prevail is reduced. Compared with the earlier work, the paintings appear riskier; the artist is now more exposed as the trails of energy in paint become less predictable.
Compared with the earlier work, the paintings appear riskier; the artist is now more exposed as the trails of energy in paint become less predictable.
In 2011, the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre held a survey of Kovacs' work, Down the Line 1980-2010, and the 2019 exhibition, curated by Sioux Garside for Orange Regional Gallery and the Drill Hall Gallery, continues where the previous survey show left off. A decade of Kovacs' roller paintings are showcased through extensive loans from the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra and some paintings from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, the artist's own collection and private collections.
There are about 40 paintings in this show, some on a considerable scale. As a general observation, there is a breathing looseness and gestural freedom in some of the finest paintings, including In my heart (2015) and In Flight (2015). Although there is a superficial resemblance to the more gestural and linear works of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Kovacs' line is more deliberate and the breathing space of the support is allowed to play a more dominant role.
If the American sculptor David Smith once spoke of his work as drawing with steel in space, Kovacs celebrates the broad painted line travelling through space and leaving traces of energy. The transparency of colour when it is applied with the roller gives the paintings a greater three-dimensionality and allows air to circulate within and around the bands of colour.
Garside explains the somewhat curious title for the show, writing, "In thinking about Kovacs' abstract paintings I was struck by the resemblance of her spiralling lines to the coils of DNA ... Her rippling forms seem to twist into a vortex or follow an unravelling double helix pattern. The DNA code is a metaphor for the way these paintings unfold and move with colour, sparked by an excavation of inner feelings and intuition..."
This is a formidable exhibition by an expressive colourist who has devised her own memorable pictorial language.