music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra, ACTEWAGL Llewellyn Three, Llewellyn Theatre, July 18. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD
This retrospective exhibition has been loosely divided into five sections, Land, Cultivation, Harvest, Furrow and Air.
Rea’s childhood home included a vegetable garden and a small orchard. The tools and implements required to tame the land, to cultivate it and produce food and flowers now form part of her imagery. As a child, the family took trips to the Cotter River and further west into what is now Namadgi National Park. As a young person, she responded to the way the light played on the water in creeks and rivers, the mountains, and filtered through the trees.
She continues to respond to and draw her inspiration from her environment – whether in the city, or in the bush. The Canberra landscape holds a numinous quality for this sensitive artist.
Rea would have been familiar with the huts scattered over the plains, valleys and hills of what was then Kosciuszko National Park when she moved into what had once been a shepherd’s cottage at Mugga Mugga in 1978. The earliest pieces in this exhibition are evocative of these huts, with cast iron walls and rusty, patched roofs. The only colour in “Untitled” 1998, one early work, is on the sloping roof. The work sits solidly on the ground, heavy and determined.
In the same year, Rea created a work titled “Landscape with Shed” a gently curved work in translucent coloured glass supported by an aluminium stand, with an engraved shed seen through the hazy colours. The lightness, both metaphorically and in colour in this, and a similar work “The balance beyond and the balance between” 1999, are a considerable contrast with the weightiness of the first work.
Rea’s eight-week residency at Bullseye Glass Co. Portland, Oregon, USA in 2000 resulted in some very different work. Two pieces, “Banded”, 2000 and “Terraqueous”, 2001 are larger, and less representative than earlier works. The curved forms in kiln-formed, wheel-cut glass balance finely on a horizontal surface. A coloured band is fitted onto the left-hand side of the former in translucent glass, and in the centre of the latter, which is blue glassThe Sections titled “Harvest” and “Furrow” reveal Rea’s interest in implements used in tilling the soil, which is also reflected in the title of works: “Balancing the blades”, 2004, evokes three digging tools, while “Reap” 2013 – in kiln-formed glass and rake heads – is reminiscent of stalks, leaves and heads of grain being blown by the wind in one direction. “Remnant rhythm”, 2013 is a pitchfork catching a piece of glass detritus – a piece of fabric or perhaps plastic.
This leads us to the last section which shows her most recent work: “Air.” This could also be titled “Solitude”, indicating that Rea welcomes solitude and is perfectly happy in her own company. A five-week residency at the Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage in Namadgi National Park gave her an extended period taking in the clean, cold air, and an opportunity to really absorb the environment, the weather, and the flora and fauna. The isolation would not appeal to everyone, but Rea revelled in it.
Her recent work shows several pieces of glass that evoke draped fabric or other light material blowing in a breeze, or floating in a distant landscape as in “The comfortable terrain of distance”, from 2016.Kirstie Rea is exhibiting the work of a confident, well-established artist who thinks deeply about her work, what it means to her and what she is conveying to us, the audience.
In a recent talk at CMAG, Rea spoke of the time she spends each day writing, reading and thinking about her work which helps to clarify her thoughts. She undertakes field research, drawing and photographing, and walking in the bush. Her work reflects the amount of consideration and intelligence that she put in to it.
Rea has been widely acknowledged for the depth of her work, receiving many awards and accolades. This retrospective exhibition marks her importance in the world of art glass, and the excellent catalogue fills in the gaps and details.
This is an exhibition not to be missed.