Quietly Spoken, by Annette Blair, and On Reflection, by Kate Nixon. Canberra Glassworks. Until August 14.
This is an inspired pairing of artists who, although they have their own distinctive style, nevertheless share many creative interests. A connection going back to student days at the ANU Canberra School of Art when Annette Blair was the lecturer and Kate Nixon the student (Nixon graduated with honours in 2013) has continued as a friendship and professional relationship.
In 2018 Blair had a notable exhibition at Beaver Galleries. At the time I felt that the artist had made a breakthrough in her work. She had moved on from her former work focusing predominantly on replicating objects in glass associated with intimate memories of her family to a wider concept of an object being able to transmit more universal emotions.
In this exhibition Blair has presented an impressive body of work where her considerable technical skills are matched with the maturity of her ideas. I felt a deep connection to the poetic work A quiet afternoon in May - a beautifully made installation in glass of two buckets filled with twigs surrounded by fallen leaves. The surfaces of the buckets are beautifully coloured, inspired by the rust marks on old tin, and the leaves reflect the warm colours of autumn. The viewer recognises these actual objects yet at the same time is moved to think of what else is being swept up in this record of the cycle of the seasons and one's own sense of time passing. A similar theme is present in Still life with poppies where the glass poppies in full bloom have the underlying "memento mori" postscript in the form of fallen petals.
Blair's largest installation, On any given day, is a magical showcase of the artist's creative skill. A large collection of glass objects from a garage workshop such as paint tins, brushes, nails and oilcans is arranged on wooden shelves backed by a photographic image of a galvanised iron shed. These objects represent the tools of a daily life of useful work as well as being a repository of family memories. Yet the aesthetic beauty of these hand-sculptured objects made in a variety of sepia tones and textures and their intimate relationship to each other enable them to be read on another level as a carefully constructed landscape of interconnected forms, textures and colour.
Kate Nixon, like Blair, uses the medium of glass and in particular mosaics to draw attention to the ordinary things of daily life that we take for granted. Her installation On reflection placed against the red brick wall of the Smokestack Gallery is very sympathetic to this challenging space and yet is also able to exist as an autonomous work. Nixon has covered the surfaces of two wheelie bins, a rubbish bag and drink cans with tiny recycled mirror mosaics so that they become dazzling objects of reflected light. By drawing attention to these ordinary objects that are receptacles of the detritus of our lives and transforming them into desirable "bling", Nixon poses the question - what is the detritus of our lives and what indeed are we collectively throwing away that is valuable?
The two artists have very successfully collaborated on a work, The Passing of Autumn. The dustpan and brush made in glass by Blair, covered with Nixon's tiny mirror mosaics, brings together the themes of the exhibition - the importance of everyday objects as a part the rituals of our lives and the ability of objects to hold meaning and memory and perhaps ultimately loss.
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