My home and studio are in the rugged bushland of Wedderburn NSW, where I have been based for the last 33 years. This peaceful environment has afforded me a positive sense of space and supported my wellbeing during the challenging time of the pandemic. I have maintained my regular studio routine but unfortunately the lockdowns meant that I was not able to attend my solo exhibition We Are the Stars at Nicholas Thompson Gallery. Earlier in the pandemic I was able to attend some memorable exhibitions that featured my work, including the #22 Dobell Drawing Prize at the National Art School, HOTA Collects (also the opening of the Gallery) in Queensland and the Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
My paintings regularly reflect current themes or my recent experiences and environments and emerge intuitively with an underlay of semi-conscious control, whereas my three dimensional works tend to be presented as loosely planned themed sets or installations. With this process COVID has gradually become one of those subjects that imposed itself into my psyche, subtly at first with the paper masks with, which we are all now so familiar with, as objects for an installation, then appearing in my paintings almost surreptitiously. I am currently working on a paper wall installation about COVID, plus making standing paper figurative sculptures wearing masks.
Whilst these works have emerged from particular COVID conditions I have been fascinated by masks for a long time. In 2012 I began to explore the possibility of making mask-like objects from fabrics. Mutter Masks (2017-2019) installation commissioned by Campbelltown Arts Centre is a collection of repurposed cloth bags sourced from second-hand shops accompanied by a soundscape of my writings of random phrases and words inspired by concrete poetry spoken by me. This was followed by another work Messenger Masks (2018) (collection Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery) constructed of paper, with drawn marks and words on the surface. Masks have made their way into several of the paintings from my most recent exhibition. Seclusion (2021) evokes the sense of being enveloped in a dense and primordial network of writhing botanical forms accompanied by several medical masks and a linear semblance of a human figure. Perhaps this could be read as myself in this landscape that I inhabit by choice. Windblown (2021) is a painting about wild unsettling weather when the branches bend dramatically, and leaves fly around. Once again, my subconscious interjected medical masks into the mix heralding it as a painting of its time.
COVID has been all embracing of our lives, the daily news is almost a ‘must watch’. It is the potential of our subconscious influences that allow artists to work with such a theme as COVID, a terrifying life changing reality, by trying to turn this often-devastating fact of life into a transformative experience, a record of our own (or collective) personal history.
Author/s: Suzanne Archer