Annie Franklin and Gordon Robinson: Fragile. Nancy Sever Gallery. Until May 8. nancysevergallery.com.au.
Annie Franklin has become an evergreen favourite in the Canberra art scene with her brightly coloured, slightly naive paintings of the landscape that glow with an inner luminosity. Many of her exhibitions sell out and this one is no exception.
Just when you are about to dismiss her work as pleasing eye candy where the imagery has a high sugar content and the subject matter has the depth of a polychrome screensaver, some of the magic of Franklin's art starts to reveal itself.
When Franklin emerged as an artist in the mid-1980s, it was in the context of socially committed printmaking that engaged with society and sought through art to change and reform this society.
Her work was collected by the National Gallery of Australia and other progressive public art collections.
She also threw herself into working with Aboriginal communities, including at the Munupi Association, Pularumpi in the Northern Territory and she taught in Batchelor at the Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education.
About 20 years ago, Franklin gravitated to the South Coast to the Bega area and finally settled in Wapengo with Gordon Robinson 17 years ago, a small settlement where Manning and Dymphna Clark resided for many years.
This became their private paradise - a much loved and intimately known microcosm from which, as artists, they make broader comments on the world at large and the crises that the planet faces.
The exhibition takes as its departure point the devastation of the black summer bushfires and the regeneration over the past couple of wet seasons.
Although their property was not destroyed in the fires, much of the neighbourhood was lost.
Franklin observes, "The fires laid bare the bones of the land. It was silent and ghostly. Grey, white and black. From the first weeks of rain after that summer, vivid colours started to evolve - starting with the brilliant orange of the reparative fire fungi. Soon after intense greens, blue-greens, reds and mauves were revealed in the first flushes of new growth ... Over the last two years of very wet seasons the changes have been dramatic. But a backdrop to all of this verdant regrowth is the ever-present silhouette of scarred mountain ranges, the skeletal forest that hugs the ridges, the forest that is unable to recover."
The large panoramic oil painting, Grief and beauty, Namadgi, 2022, measuring 123 centimetres by 143 centimetres - which is a very large work by Franklin's standards - celebrates regrowth and fecundity with nature bursting into life and birds of all descriptions bringing movement to the bush.
However, the background hills lie burnt and barren and there are scars everywhere of denuded landscapes. Franklin picks out with jewel-like precision reflective pools and emphasises the brilliance of the palette of nature.
Her use of a hyper-realistic style that she employs to pick out detail with a miniaturist technique gives her paintings something of a mix between a naive primitivist approach and the spiritual holistic mindset of an artist like William Robinson.
Other strong paintings include My place and Mumbulla, 2021, where there is a symphony of colour and movement created between the bursting floral blooms in the foreground, fluttering leaves above and the ring of fire on the hills behind.
Gordon Robinson's paintings at this exhibition are in a related style, pleasing and elegant, but somehow lacking the magic of Franklin.
This is an exhibition that explores our fragile environment and celebrates the hope that springs from the darkest hour of destruction.
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