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‘Watching, Not Looking’ at Helen Gory Galerie

Built up of layer upon layer of paint, Robyn Burgess’ paintings are defined by their rich colours and dense, mesmerising surfaces that shimmer and move giving each painting a tactile, sculptural quality.

The paintings hover between the abstract and the figurative; as a viewer we are required to shift focus back and forth between form and subject, abstraction and figuration, calculation and impulse.

Themes of being elsewhere, of traversing the unknown and the unfamiliar, are recurring concerns in Burgess’ work, reflecting her extensive travels, usually to cold climates where contemporary landscapes are blanketed in snow.

‘Central to travel is the notion of departure, arrival, observation and experience. Then the return home. Tourists are twitchy travellers and artists can build this unease into their work. Perhaps in the best tradition of art and travel, the resultant work tells us as much about the artist as it does about the places she has been.’ (Robyn Burgess, 2012)

This body of work was inspired in part by time spent by Burgess in New York with its iconic architecture and lauded bridges. In many respects bridges, with their simultaneous sense of history and portent, embody Burgess’ narrative concern with journeying, the foreign and the unknown. They aptly reinforce the notions of hovering and suspension that underpin much of her practice.

‘Without architecture the city would be non-existent. Without architecture, we would perish. Architectural monuments provide potent symbolic images of the universe; these inorganic objects will outlast their creators and go on to formulate their own separate histories. The artist gazing at and stalking their architectural ‘object of affection’ is faced with their own finiteness. Architecture looks back at us with frightening authority, and sometimes the observer (the hunter) becomes the hunted; I welcome and thrive on this curiosity and unease through watching. Watching, not looking.’ (Robyn Burgess, 2012) 

Burgess’ aerial grid paintings similarly hint at exploration of immense distances viewed from aircraft windows. They too quietly evoke the emotional presence and pull of the landscape, resisting realism in favour of implication, experience in favour of specifics of time and place.

Burgess is a staunch proponent of the craft of painting, savouring the process of painting and the physical properties of paint. She makes many of her own mediums, variations of age-old recipes. Built of many layers over many months Burgess’ laden paintings are dense and technically complex. They tellingly absorb variations in light, mood and season during the period of their making. Her unique style of marking results in works that are at once tangible and sculptural yet remain hauntingly and suggestively abstract.

Burgess was Head of Drawing and a lecturer in painting at La Trobe University for many years. Her work attracts curatorial attention and has been included in numerous institutional exhibitions. In 2010 Burgess was honoured with a solo show at Bendigo Art Gallery.

Helen Gory Galerie