music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra, ACTEWAGL Llewellyn Three, Llewellyn Theatre, July 18. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD
“OLD age is not for cissies” is the inscription on one of Sue Taylor’s portrait drawings and, after a lifetime as a practising artist who has been selected for many major exhibitions, she knows what it takes to get to be elderly and to keep on going.
Taylor’s portraits, whether they are of people, chooks, penguins or goats, are all crafted with detail and a high precision of form while using a subtle and refined palette. Even the minimalist caricatures of people, such as a waiter in a restaurant, or tourists lazing around a pool, stand out for their intimate detail. This displays an excellent grasp of the human form but more importantly, human emotions.
Taylor, who has taught drawing at the Canberra School of Art at the ANU for 25 years, has had her drawings and artworks selected for most major art prizes in Australia, such as the Dobell Drawing Prize and the Archibald Prize, the Portia Geach Portrait Prize and her works are held in many national and international collections.
So many of the small drawings stand out in this exhibition at Form Studio and Gallery in Queanbeyan. “Hippie Peter” 2017 in ink and wash on buff paper, is made up of short erratic pen strokes that have captured the determination and stoic presence of the sitter in a profound and gentle manner.
The quick, almost instantaneous sketches Taylor has completed in places such as Grand Central Station in New York or a man sitting in Garema Place in Canberra are fascinating for telling immediate stories of people seemingly doing little, but they stand out with a reverence for their individual style and the simple statement that each human makes by being alive.
In this exhibition, many of Taylor’s works have descriptive titles. These quirky and vivid labels such as “Cranky old gay Irish man”, or “Eating an apple by the pool” shows an artist thinking about their works in an extended form. The small pencil work titled “Watching the shoe mender, street market in Dhaka, Bangladesh” is a snatch of street life that shows a person involved in their craft, but due to the nature of the drawing, the descriptive title helps a viewer to understand what is going on and the title adds empathy to the work.
As the 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich did in some of his philosophical artworks by showing people looking out over a landscape but from behind a person, so Taylor portrays people in several artworks from behind, which adds to the fascination and mystery of a standard front on view.
Taylor clearly has a love of the human form and humans, and it makes this reviewer wonder how many people she has captured in her unique way through a lifetime of drawing.