Autumn 1989 painted and stencilled sawn wood from discarded soft drink crates on plywood backing 92.0 x 83.5cm (36 1/4 x 32 7/8in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1989
EXHIBITED Rosalie Gascoigne, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney, 31 October - 18 November 1989, cat. no. 15
Rosalie Gascoigne made works inspired by and in virtually all cases drawn from her own environment Canberra and its hinterland. It was country she knew in her bones. As she put it: "Artists are like bards of old, they sing a song of their district"1. The weathered man-made materials she scavenged there, whether wooden boxes, retro-reflective road signs, lino or corrugated iron, dictated the works she made. They suggested an approach, and as the artwork took shape under her hands she passed it through her experiences and memory, sifting and weighing. Describing this process she quoted Wordsworth's dictum that the origin of poetry is "emotion recollected in tranquillity". At the end, work completed, came the title. Gascoigne was careful with titles and used them to extend the meaning of the work out from the local to the universal.
So we have Autumn. The plain title and palette orange-red, gold, yellow, yellow-green giving way to a weathered grey suggest trees as their leaves gradually die and fall with the onset of winter. She would have known this annual passage from her time in Canberra, with its avenues of trees that briefly blaze in golden colours. But past that she would have recollected her childhood in Auckland, another city of autumnal glory.
The arrangement of colours into loose rectangles also suggests both a quilt Gascoigne made a quilt in the 1950s and the squares of cultivated fields seen from an elevated position. But in this case the weathered squares, bleached of colour, definitively evoke the greying trunks and branches of trees now denuded of leaves.
Bleaching, fading, falling. The verbs suggest the slow decline from autumn to winter, and with it a gradual diminution of energy and life. This is terrain Gascoigne was very familiar with. In works like The fall before 1981 (Private collection, Sydney), Past glories before 1987 (Cruthers Collection of Women's Art, Perth), Letting go before 1991 (Gascoigne family) and eventually her final series Earth before 1999 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) she essays one of her most consistent themes, human mortality. For Gascoigne, the seasonal passage from autumn to winter strongly evokes the human experience of ageing and death. As American poet John Berryman put it:
Fall is grievy, brisk. Tears behind the eyes almost fall. Fall comes as a prize to rouse us towards our fate. 2
And so Gascoignes' Autumn, a song of her district composed in weathered wood from old soft drink crates, becomes our song. The last of summer's burnished colours blaze to shepherd us into the dark night ahead.
With thanks to Martin Gascoigne for access to his archive and catalogue raisonne (in prep) 1 Quoted in Vici MacDonald, Rosalie Gascoigne, Regaro, Paddington 1998, p. 37 2 Dreamsong 385, John Berryman, The Dream Songs, Farrer, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1969, p. 407