Lesley Dumbrell, Trevor Vickers, Virginia Coventry and Richard Dunn: Lightworks. ANU Drill Hall Gallery, Kingsley Street, Acton. Until November 29, 2020.
Charles Nodrum established his eponymous commercial art gallery in Melbourne almost four decades ago and with it a reputation for integrity, erudition and an adherence to abstract geometric art, especially of the variety that came to prominence in the late 1960s.
Nodrum is an ideal candidate to curate an exhibition of four veteran abstract painters - Lesley Dumbrell, Virginia Coventry, Trevor Vickers and Richard Dunn. Both he and the artists are of a similar vintage and all of them emerged on the art scene in the late 1960s when there was a taste for hard edge abstraction.
It is interesting that this taste, exemplified by the notorious exhibition The Field in 1968, for many artists, even those who participated in the show, was a passing thing, a steppingstone to other styles and artistic endeavours. Artists such as Peter Booth, Janet Dawson, Sydney Ball, Udo Sellbach and Normana Wight, all veterans of The Field, ultimately turned their backs on abstraction and explored various figurative modes of expression.
The four artists in this exhibition, of whom only Vickers was included in The Field, have remained steadfast to the aesthetics of the late 1960s and created much of their subsequent work within the parameters of geometric abstraction, albeit modified, refined and rethought. The artists negotiate a tightrope between consistency and aesthetic petrification.
Dumbrell is the most perplexing and engaging of the four. Working out of her studios in Bangkok and Euroa in central Victoria, she creates an exquisite complexity in developing her own lexicon exploring light, colour and geometric non-representational form. In some of her earliest work, I recall the use of bold surface patterning reminiscent of Bridget Riley, but this has given way to a profundity and complexity. Dumbrell's Gridelin (2007) has a multilayered complexity in the superimposed grid juxtaposed with the dynamic darting white lines. The colours are largely opaque and the visual impact of the surface pattern quite mesmerising. The scale of this oil painting, 168 centimetres by 130 centimetres, is sufficient to provide the space within which the viewer can dissolve but is sufficiently contained to maintain a sense of intimacy.
In some ways Vickers is the most consistent of the four artists, and apart from the almost two decades spent living in Britain, when he explored unusual forms in his art, back in Perth from 1995 he continued with his rather austere geometric explorations. Vickers's DeLacy 7 (2008), acrylic on canvas, is one of his classic explorations of a bordered rectangle with the dividing line in the middle hinting at a diptych-like format.
It is an immaculate, clever and subtle painting where you are drawn into complex games with optics. The slight after-glow of yellow heightens the perception of moving fields of sensuous blue.
Coventry is the most varied of the artists included and she is possibly better known as a photographer, draughtsman and theorist than she is as a painter of exquisite geometric abstractions floating suspended in space.
Dunn, who has had an extensive academic career and has tackled many different aspects of art over the past five decades, in the Haus Wittgenstein, Kundmanngasse 19 series from 2015-18 returns to geometric abstraction and some of the aspects of painting that occupied him in the 1960s.
Although Hannah Gason's Interval exhibition, curated by Helen Maxwell, is not part of Nodrum's Lightworks and is tucked away in a side room, it explores many related themes concerning colour and abstraction.
Working with glass, Gason builds up prismatic towers and wall pieces where kinetic optics creates an absorbing viewing experience.