Review / Enveloped in a world of quiet energy

Visual art / “Hilarie Mais”. At the Drill Hall Gallery, ANU, until July 29. Reviewed by JOHN LANDT

Hilarie Mais’ “Mist 2010”, oil on wood, oil on canvas, Photo by Margund Sallowsky

TO walk into this exhibition of works by Sydney-based artist Hilarie Mais is to be enveloped in a world of quiet energy.

In her work, Mais explores the expressive possibilities of the grid. She works by hand and follows predetermined numerical and geometric patterns found in nature. Mistakes, intuition and the passage of time are allowed to intervene.

The wooden lattice leaning against the gallery’s front wall “reflection/feather 2016” shimmers with hand-painted shapes in shades of white and cream against the warm colours of the natural wood. Next to it, hanging on the wall, is a darker work “reflection/reach 2015”. Here, small squares of unpainted wood shine like gold against the dark charcoal lattice. At the bottom of the structure the vertical wooden strips break out of the grid, cast shadows on the wall and lift the work up, away from the floor.  

Nearby, hanging on the wall in black, grey and white are a wooden grid and a painting “Mist 2010”. As you walk past, the shapes within these works change markedly. Then, looking about you as you move around the exhibition, a world of constant change and energy is revealed, one of warmth and humanity.  

Hilarie Mais’ “Cluster Ghost 2016″… the work appears to glow, an effect due to primary colours painted on the back of the clusters of wooden strips reflecting off the wall behind the work.

In the gallery’s middle space, a vibrant construction in red and white “RES 2010” hangs opposite two predominantly white works. These works radiate with muted colours and are reminiscent of the work of Agnes Martin whom Hilarie Mais met when living in New York early in her career. The work on the left “Cluster Ghost 2016” appears to glow. This effect is due to primary colours painted on the back of the clusters of wooden strips reflecting off the wall behind the work. In the work on the right “Broken Ghost 2016”, pale colours painted on to the wooden strips vibrate in relation to the shadows cast on the wall.

This fine exhibition covers the most recent decade of Hilarie Mais’ work, and was on display recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and the TarraWarra Museum of Art in Victoria.  The Drill Hall Gallery hosted a joint exhibition of works by Hilarie Mais, her late partner Bill Wright and their eldest daughter Jessica Mais Wright in 2011. It also presented the first survey of Hilarie Mais’ work in 2004.

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