Poetics of Shape by Sheena Mathieson

By Sheena Mathieson: Titled-No.50: Media-Mono print on 220gsm Fabriano Rosapina: Size- 50x70cms:

Poetics of Shape by Sheena Mathieson is an online exhibition of fifty-two mono prints, fifty by seventy centimeters. The works are joyous, light, playful, colourful and expertly executed.

Poetics of Shape plays with Poetics of Space by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s. Poetics of Space explores our relationship to the physical building of home. A famous extract of Bachelard’s “… better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality…” Artist Sheena Mathieson has keenly felt the restrictions and impact of COVID 19 living and working in inner Melbourne, teetering on the edge of the CBD. Melbourne has experienced one of the longest COVID19 lockdowns in the world to date.

Mathieson’s fifty-two mono prints stand on their own in uniqueness. Mono printing in the west dates to the sixteenth century re-emerging with Edgar Degas placing them into the modern art movement. Mono prints are not print runs of multiples rather one offs. Contemporary mono prints have a story of simple shapes often with the use of one or two colours.

Artwork No.50. appears simple, light, and joyful belies the precision. Her use of colour is lightly applied giving way to the transparency of other colour. Mathieson’s work has a 1970’s flavour in shape however without the use of heavy blocks of colour such as Berenice Sydney’s work nor does it reflect the 1990’s blurred line like Mark Francis when both decades saw a re invigoration in mono prints. There are a least ten markings (print pressings) using four different colours expertly executed. The works are simple yet controlled each mark is cross hatched, giving a light textural feel of cloth. The work encapsulates movement, references the figurative, the landscape and is abstract. Its like a cloud, we can imagine into it.

These intriguing works are familiar yet original, comforting yet stark, homely yet precise. Mathieson has had fun playing with the Gaston Bachelard’s philosophy shedding light within the home during this dark historical moment of COVID19.

Go have a peek at her online exhibition https://www.woman-made.biz/poetics-of-shape-2020/

Review by Fern Smith

Flash Story: Holding Bay: Fern Smith:

Flash Story: Holding Bay: Fern Smith:

Flunking down on the soft day-couch butted up to the large sunroom window my eyes cast to big sky, realising I am in holding bay.

Batting away suggestions of doing words, a complete compunction about verbs. Always been a little that way inclined all my life finding ways to wriggle out of the ‘around the house’ jobs, jobs in general and never rounding myself out as a full “I am a…” person.

Slithering away at parties when discussing ‘what do you do?’  People say I am an artist. Yeah right not so good as selling ‘work’. I tried once knocking door to door with my leather briefcase full of A4 of vivid ink washes of grotesque people, didn’t go down too well. Many a door in face.

Tried car boot sales. Laying out a dusty smelly picnic rug that had be scrunched up in the back of an unkempt car while carefully placing my grotesque scantily clothed figures down, all laid out into a story, of sorts. Mothers yanking arms of their transfixed children goggling at ‘contemporary art”. As the day waned, bored, I pack up with the other sad sack sellers. No extra cents.

My mind wonders into constant long sentences of doubt. What am I holding onto where do I think I am going why am I so adverse, cryptic, who am I anyway, some upstart with no ambition, who wants ambition, do I want to live in a house where eyes stare and haunt, truant, never staying anywhere that long, people asking questions.

Ah that was all so long ago now.

The couch is my sea. Finessed in the art of scuttling sideways. An artist of non-doing. An artist of note. The sky draws me in, soaring with the pelicans riding a draft in a unison v, synchronised flying, so way up high. The storm clouds approach. Where do they go to when it rains?

The operation is in a few weeks.

Joy Hester Happy Belated Birthday: The year we closed our doors

Joy Hester Happy Belated Birthday: The year we closed our doors

What: Joy Hester: Remember Me – curated by Kendrah Morgan

Where: Heide MoMA Melbourne

When: 30 June 2020 – 4 October 2020 (new end date yet to be announced).

Temporarily closed due to COVID19 Melbourne stage four lock down

Forward note: The Curators:

I feel like calling them “the curettes” as it is with surgical precision they have researched and dissected Joy Hester’s artwork, placing her alongside her male contemporaries. One day Joy Hester will gain international status like Nolan or Whiteley. Not today our doors are closed.

2020: Kendrah Morgan: Joy Hester Remember Me: exhibition Heide MoMA

2005: Denise Mimmoccchi: ‘In Defence of the Unwritten History”: Article: Woman’s Art Journal, Fall 2004/Winter 2005, Volume 25, No.2, published by Woman’s Art Inc. (USA)

2001: Kelly Gellatly: Leave no space for yearning – The Art of Joy Hester: exhibition Heide MoMA

2001: Deborah Hart: Joy Hester and Friends: exhibition National Gallery of Australia

1983: Janine Burke: Joy Hester:  Greenhouse Publications, Melbourne

The Review: Happy Belated Birthday

The 21th of August was my birth mother’s hundredth birthday, Joy Hester. Joy died at forty, I was six, I am now sixty-five and my son is forty-two.  I have never celebrated her birthday, I rarely speak of her, shy away from the curious, hide my mother inside of me.

Kendrah Morgan, the curator of Joy Hester: Remember Me, generously took me on a private tour of the largest exhibition to date of her artwork; the day before the first COVID19 lockdown in Victoria.

The glaring light in the car park closest to the Albert Tucker wing, where the exhibition is held (irony), contrasts with the subdued tones of the exhibition walls painted smoky grey highlighted with musty pink and soft blue, the lights are set low not to burn pigment and crackle the fragile papers, the precious creations. This gave a feeling of walking inside my mother. A womb. It was an overwhelming feeling of deep acknowledgement, sadness, relief, and joy to externally feel her heartbeat, her soul. I thank Kendrah for giving me that experience.

Joy Hester’s work is deeply analytical. This is achieved through exploring the female form, leaving you with a question mark on gender. The works are executed deliberately, swiftly, and deftly with inks and water colour. There is an emotional urgency/agency as if to catch the water before it hits the floor. To express your work in this way takes practice, skill, and persistence. This is evident in her depiction of lovers, from 1948 and continuing until 1956—it was a body of work she continuously went back to, as if wresting with a query that is hard to catch. A woman’s place in love, in relationships. Most of the works bar a few place women central to the theme, in the foreground, front and centre. There is one work, of two women interestingly, in equal position in the foreground: cat. no.109 Love (Heart group) c.1949.

I propose Joy Hester’s work is a precursor to feminist art. In Hester’s work ‘woman’ is the investigated, the protagonist. She visually questions the gender divide, plays with status, moves and changes the status. An early rendering of this is in a c.1942 Street Scene: cat. no. 17. The work is possibly set in St. Kilda, where she lived with Albert Tucker. It is a black ink wash. You cannot miss the billboard in the foreground with a naked woman except for the lacy underwear. We automatically think place, time, and work, most likely a prostitute. But is it? We know that type of advertising would not have been allowed then, through the strict censorship laws in place. Does it indicate ‘women’s role’? How women are perceived? What is their station in life? Is it challenging stereotypes? What are our views on prostitution or scantily clad women be it then or now? The woman has a smile on her face. Street Scene, a simple yet complex work. Women are not ‘objects’ in Joy’s work they are the central tenant. It is a work worthy of exploration and further investigation.

The works in the exhibition are in a scholarly way grouped together to make it easy for the viewer to digest the art, question the art, see the creative process. There is a cluster of works titled “Interiors with figures”.  Kendrah states “… with the figures projecting a sense of vulnerability, internal disquiet and sometimes claustrophobia…” There are three works [cat. no. 21 (Seated woman) 1943, cat. no. 22 Woman Resting 1943, cat. no.31 (Seated girl) c.1944] of women in bare rooms or bedrooms, alone and empty and quite well dressed. There is a sense of women waiting. What are they waiting for? … loved ones to come back from war? Waiting for life to begin?  Resting? Are they waiting for death?

In that grouping there is a magnificent work, (Three figures in a chair), c.1944 cat. no. 32, which appears to be a naked family all sitting in one chair and the background is black, dense. None of them appear to be happy yet they are comfortable. The year before Sweeney was born (her first child), the year before war ended. Was Hester pregnant? Was she questioning place and position? Are they trapped? Is it questioning the family construct? It is not an easy work.

Kendrah Morgan frequently pointed out how Joy’s work kept going back to the senses being integrated into her visual story. Joy hardly ever painted noses as there was no need—it didn’t add to the narrative, sight, the eyes, were the main sense strongly conveyed, however there are standouts to this such as Girl Holding Flowers 1956, cat.no.125: you can almost smell the posy. The languid lazy arm hanging heavy over a shoulder, giving weight to the touch explored in (The embrace) from the Love series I cat. no.110,c.1949.

My mother was not a commercial artist, she was a woman artist standing often alone with her male contemporaries, she never backed down. Hester’s work was not valued until forty years after her death, the exhibitions twenty years apart. Women flock to the exhibitions drinking in their language. She is a feminist 101 charging well before the others, alone. I hope lockdown is lifted to enable you to stand before this valuable work that gets shown so rarely and is still open to questioning.     

Post note:

Many flourishings go to the women curators who bastion women artists. It is their time and commitment that places women alongside men in art. It is interesting to note there are more women artists than their male counter parts, however there are still fewer represented in national and state Museums and Galleries.

Fern Smith 24/08/2020

Links: to Heide MoMA https://www.heide.com.au/exhibitions/joy-hester-remember-me and Scroll down the page to download the Room Sheet – the catalogue of Joy Hester Remember Me

PST: Collage by Fern – most of the images are held at Smith-Hester archive Heide MOMA

Twenty Melbourne Painters Society

What: 102nd annual exhibition works by Twenty Melbourne Painters Society. When: 13 September to 30th of August 2020. Where: Click on each artist to view the whole exhibition. https://twentymelbournepainterssociety.com.au/2020-on-line-exhibition/

An exhibition of artworks by the Twenty Melbourne Painters Society’s members. It is a love story of the splendour; the great outdoors and studio works. They pay homage to the founders through employing en plein air in the genres predominately in expressionism, tonalism and realism. The artworks are a feast for your eyes while witnessing respect for deep ecology.

All works are crafted with skill from of a lifetime of art practice such as Margaret Cowlings “Winter, Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne”, a work painted outside in winter deftly daubing light and shadow. What appears simple may have taken twenty years to achieve, for example Abbots “TreeForms and Wattle, Monsalvat” and John Orlando Birt’s watercolour “Winter Rubicon, Victoria” is an exacting work of tonalism. 

Unknown, I think, to the founders who created an invitation only process to be members has enabled a buffeting from storms of change. Isolated in a sense from the waves of painting genres for instance; symbolism, art nouveau, surrealism, social realism, postmodernism, and conceptualism. On saying this, Fiona Bilbrough “Priceless” is an impressionist conceptual work, while Jennifer Fyfe “Titan Pictures Presents”, marries realism, impressionism and graphic design breaking away from the mold to introduce the genre of conceptualism while remaining true to the founders.

Title: “Titan Pictures Presents”. Medium: Mixed media including oil on linen. Size: 55 x 75cm

Embedded in tradition the Twenty Melbourne Painters are quietly deeply radical. The artists are mainly “be here now’ painters. They are light catchers and diarists with camera shutter eyes, demanding a truthful account of what they see. Such as Raymond Hewitt’s “Smoke Haze” or Barbara McCallum’s “Pomegranates with Green Jug” both quite different light catchers.

Painting what they see in front of them and utilising ground pigments, oils, paper, and cloth all compostable, The Twenty Melbourne Painters, show respect for the natural environment and display a living embodiment of “act local think global” a deep ecology.


Angela Abbot’s whimsical glimpse of a landscape “TreeForms and Wattle, Monsalvat” the work is like and ending of a chapter you are wondering what will happen next. Abbot has successfully utilised the use of abstraction, tonalism and impressionism. The daubes of oil look almost haphazard relaxed however it is with a surgeon’s knife she cuts through the landscape.

Tilba Tilba the actual location holds a special spot in my psyche with its looming mountain Gulaga (nee Mount Dromedary) with its many strange tales, the spiritual home to Yuin people. In the Australian impressionist tradition of capturing the drenching glare; “Tilba Tilba”, a large watercolour, by Greg Allen is the light, oat-wheaten coloured folding mountains, with an impressive expanse. His deft hand at capturing light is outstanding.

This miniature oil painting applied with thick strokes “Priceless” by Fiona Bilbrough, an image of toilet paper. The shortage of toilet paper rolls at the beginning of the lockdown in Australia with COVID19 took on gargantuan proportions.  “Priceless” a historical documentation of toilet paper, it is rendered with loving care. This is example of contemporary concept bedded in tradition of tonal impressionism.

John Orlando Birt’s watercolour “Winter Rubicon, Victoria” is a beautiful tonal work conjuring a thousand stories. The use of soaked paper to get the result of the washed-out background, emphasises the sodden, wheel trodden marshy foreground, establishing Birt’s authority with his craft. 

Bill Caldwell’s “The Painting class” oil on linen takes you into the practice of studio painting. The internal scape is emphasized with an impressionists filtered light reflected on the concentrated studio artists faces as they hone their craft. Your eye follows the attention to detail highlighting the movement in the work.

“Winter, Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne” watercolour captures Margaret Cowlings’s skilled eye capturing a fragment of time and light in this en plein air work. This achieved through feeling the chill of winter with its charcoal black stretching shadows, bear trees and the possum guard giving the work a timeframe to the established Flagstaff gardens. The cool temperature of the work is redeemed with low angled sun giving a warmth with the use of yellow and ochre hues. Cowling is a mistress of her craft capturing light and documenting time with her deft handling of watercolour.

Stephen Doyle “Natives” oil on canvas, is a light filled flower study. Doyle uses his oil stroke like his watercolour stroke, this is quite rare. His egg shell white background and ochre lentil  give weight, place, context to the work. The contrast between the mishappen vases a blue ceramic pickle jar, a green glass beaker and old glass potion bottle all very colonial with the casual pickings’ native flora one in each container, a spiral eucalyptus, banksia and a Leucadendron. 

Jennifer Fyfe “Titan Pictures Presents” mixed media is a conceptual work. A classic impressionist portrait draws on her weekly three hour studio study at the Victorian Artists Society is combined with graphic imaginary of a vintage 1940 -1950’s movie or theatre poster. Both disciplines are executed with precision bring a complete concept to the viewer. Jennifer shows confidence and adroit ability to straddle a few art genres, realism, and graphic design, bringing together a cohesive whole.  

Raymond Hewitt “Smoke Haze” oil on board is an example of thick stroke tonalism to express those horrid bushfires that smothered the east coast of Australia for five months, no-one was immune. Like Turner from the more realistic early years Hewitt is moving into an almost abstract concept to represent the landscape. Its remarkably effective and immediate.

Amanda Hyatt’s “Southern Cross Station” a wet on wet oil painting. Wet on wet means you do not dry your work between layers it requires little footprint on the canvas, it is an existent work. The work has a limited pallet and tonal giving it a great sense of movement.

An impressionist portrait studio artist, Lee Machelak’s “Flower Girl” oil painting was executed outdoors, she was delighted in the experience. Machelak has an easy loose stoke to her work rendering the portrait in a more casual pose compared to the realists work like Paul Fitzgerald. Flower Girl is an expressive gentle work.

“Pomegranates with Green Jug” Barbara McCallum demonstrates the subtle brush stokes enhancing the tonal realist effect. The outstanding aspects of this painting is the brick, cement, and brass work. McCallum pays homage to simple common home objects highlighting the beautiful pomegranate with the use of rich cool tones. Is it depicting a shadowy outdoor spot or late afternoon in winter?

Paul McDonald Smith “Proteas and Fruit” oil on linen is a sumptuous feast laden table both European and Australian in flavour. A well composed studio work with the table at an angle giving more space to the table setting. The close paint strokes enhance the tonal work and the light is in the natural in flavour, is exquisite.

“Summer, Northern Victoria” by Ross Paterson, en plein air pastel is tonal and representational. “The choice of soft pastel as the medium was a very suitable one as it is very flexible and plastic – with strong colour overlays and divisionist strokes all part of the development and adjustments to make the painting work cohesively.” Paterson

“Winter light” a large watercolour by Herman Pekel utilizes a limited palette, tonal and realist to good effect. The work has a strong Australian bushland feel. Saplings on a gentle slope to somewhere misty cold, you can almost smell it. The depth of field is well executed.  I popped onto his website and noticed this work is a reoccurring theme maybe it’s his favourite private spot?

“Storm over Cape Schanck” en plein air watercolour by Clive Sinclair. Wet on Wet watercolour is where the sheet of paper is saturated before you start painting. There are a couple of schools in this technique. Sinclair employs immediate daubing once the water has been applied. Sinclair uses a few stokes to capture the light perfect application for this stormy day.

Its windy and wild at Red Bluff the size of the landscape is depicted by the smallness of the couple in the landscape. Peter Smales “Windy Day, Red Bluff” oil painting deploys thick easy brushstrokes to set the scene. It is tonal and expressionist in style.

David K Taylor “Light Phillip Island’ watercolour with this work you have a good sense of shade glare and the natural environment . “…Capturing the essence of the subject as a fleeting moment in time requires speed of hand to achieve the spontaneity I like to record…the light in its many guises and drama of fleeting impressions are important factors when I am viewing this special world that is ours to be a part of…”  Taylor’s website.

“The Narrows” Maxwell Wilks pastel paper on board.  “A summer view of the Australian landscape reflecting on the vast and dry and endless plain.” Wilks. The work is iconic, representational, and tonal impressionism with Tom Roberts similar use of colour such as in the work “Break away”. The Narrows is rich and deep in colour evoking summer and the vast landscape before us.

Joseph Zbukvic’s mixed media “Heading Out”. is “…a balance of harmony between tonal values, design, colour and mood that will visually evoke the emotions between the viewer and the painting. Watercolour, with its subtle and gentle effects is a perfect medium to achieve this.” Zbukvic website

Allow yourself the time to view the exhibition.

Reviewed by Conceptual artist Fern Smith – Enjoy the exhibition