Scrub Country 1981 weathered painted wood from discarded soft-drink crates, with aluminium strip supports 144.0 x 376.0cm (56 11/16 x 148 1/16in).
PROVENANCE James Baker Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne Pat Corrigan AM, Sydney Niagara Galleries, Melbourne The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 2006
EXHIBITED Australia: Venice Biennale, 40th Venice Biennale, Venice, 13 June 12 September 1982, cat. no. 7 (label attached verso) Australian Artists at Venice and Kassel, touring exhibition, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 18 November 1982 16 January 1983; The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 5 February 13 March 1983, cat. no. 7 Continuum '83, The 1st Exhibition of Australian Contemporary Art in Japan, Gallery Yamaguchi, Tokyo, Japan, 22 August 3 September 1983, cat. no. 5 Rosalie Gascoigne, Pinacotheca Gallery, Melbourne, October, 1984, cat. no. 19 Big Pictures, The Pat Corrigan Collection, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, July August 1990, cat. no. 4 Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, touring exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 14 November 1997 11 January 1998; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 4 July - 27 September 1998 Toi Toi Toi, Three Generations of New Zealand Artists, touring exhibition, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel, 23 January - 5 April 1999; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland, 21 May - 8 August 1999, cat. no. 63 The Big River Show, Murrumbidgee Riverine, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, New South Wales, 11 October - 1 December 2002 (label attached verso) Rosalie Gascoigne: Plein Air, City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand, February May 2004 Rosalie Gascoigne, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 19 December 2008 - 15 March 2009
LITERATURE Ian North, Rosalie Gascoigne, exh. cat., Australia: Venice Biennale, 1982, p.52 Australia: Venice Biennale, Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, 1982, cat. no. 7, pp. 64-65 (illus.) Bernice Murphy, Project 40: Australian Artists at Venice and Kassel, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1983, cat. no. 7 (illus.) Continuum '83, The 1st Exhibition of Australian Contemporary Art in Japan, 1983 Anne Kirker, 'Art that calls us into relationship: a way of interpreting McCahon and Gascoigne', in Louise Petther (ed), Sense of Place, 1990, p. 19 (illus.) Harriet Edquist, 'Material Matters - The Landscapes of Rosalie Gascoigne', Binocular, 1993, p. 11 Deborah Edwards, Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, pp. 26-27, pl. 5 (illus.) Joanna Mendelssohn, 'Avant-garde magic out of chrysalis', Australian, 21 November 1997, p. 18 John McDonald, 'Charms to Soothe A Savage Critic', The Sydney Morning Herald: Spectrum, Sydney, 29 November 1997, p. 16 (illus.) Vivienne Webb, Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, State of the Arts, New Zealand, December 1997 (illus.) Felicity Fenner, 'Landscape of Shards', Art in America, February 1999, pp. 90-91 (illus.) Sasha Grishin, 'Looking at the edges of our society', Canberra Times, 6 December 1997, p. 16 Anne Kirker, Rosalie Gascoigne, Toi Toi Toi, Three generations of artists from New Zealand, Museum Fridericianum Kassel and Auckland Art Gallery, 1999 p. 74 Ben Gascoigne, 'The Artist-in-residence', in Mary Eagle (ed) From the Studio of Rosalie Gascoigne, Australian National University, Canberra, Drill Hall Gallery, 2000 p. 11 Gavin Wilson, The Big River Show, Murrumbidgee Riverine, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, 2002, p. 42-43 Rosalie Gascoigne: Plein Air, City Gallery Wellington, New Zealand, 2004, p. 58, pl. 8 (illus.) Georgina Safe, 'Wellington Arts Festival', The Australian, 13 April 2004 p. 12 (illus.) William McAloon, 'Roadrunner', Listener, 17-23 April 2004, vol. 193, no. 3336 Kelly Gellatly, et al, Rosalie Gascoigne, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2008, pp. 20, 31, 84-85 (illus.), 135 Canberra Times, Panorama, 27 December 2008, p. 17 (illus.)
Scrub country is one of the earliest of Rosalie Gascoigne's major wall assemblages, a group that includes Promised land 1986 (TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria), Plenty 1986 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), Monaro 1989 (Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth) and Far view 1990 (Private Collection), in which her strikingly original vision reinvented the Australian landscape panorama through the prism of modernist abstraction. These works, made from sliced up soft-drink crates, are both transcendent fields of nuanced colour and expansive landscape views that celebrate the big, spare, country of the Monaro district and southern tablelands, the conceptual and material stimulus for Gascoigne's art.
The present work was included in the Australian exhibition of the 1982 Venice Biennale, when Gascoigne and Peter Booth were selected to represent Australia (she was the first woman to do so). It was reproduced on the cover of the catalogue and as an exhibition poster. Subsequently Scrub country has been included in two important surveys of her practice: Rosalie Gascoigne: material as landscape at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1997-98 (curated by Deborah Edwards) and Rosalie Gascoigne at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2008 (curated by Kelly Gellatly).
As Ian North observed in his essay on Gascoigne for the Venice Biennale catalogue, 'she ... curved into the centre [of the art world] from a long way out', having had her first solo exhibition a mere eight years before (at Macquarie Galleries in Canberra). By 1982 her work had been acquired by a number of art museums and she had also been selected as the subject of a solo survey at the National Gallery of Victoria (in 1978).
In the early 1980s her assemblage work changed from constructions utilising direct pictorial imagery such as kewpie dolls, enamel kitchenware and cardboard Arnotts parrots to refined fluid exercises in the use of only one or two materials. Scrub country exemplifies the shift of focus from objects to materials as carriers of meaning, when Gascoigne's work became freer, allusive, and more conceptually ambitious.
Gascoigne first incorporated the drink-crate timbers in her assemblages in the late 1970s notably March past 1979 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra) and these materials came to be strongly identified with her work (as did the retro-reflective road sign pieces of the 1990s). The crates were pulled to pieces and then reconstructed into grids and tessellations that are the underlying structure of the panoramic landscapes. The open-endedness of a classic minimalist grid its implication of going on forever was used by Gascoigne 'as a means of evoking boundless space'1, a key ingredient in the relationship of her art to the natural world, and to the Canberra region landscape in particular. Complexity, deviation, and variation are intrinsic to Gascoigne's deployment of the grid across the landscape assemblages, suggesting both the infinite variety of natural repetition, and the particularity of each prospect.
In Scrub country the work is constructed from weathered painted slats stacked in a series of nine columns spaced a few centimetres apart on the wall, forming a classic broad-format landscape close to four metres in length. The work's long horizontals are even top and bottom, but the gaps between the slats and columns are irregular, and the tension between the two compresses the work, so that it seems to burst sideways and outwards. Movement is an essential element of Gascoigne's epic landscapes, and here the irregular variegated blocks of faded colours, pock-marked rust-stains and fragmented lettering take one's eye back and forth across the surface, seeing light and shadow, form and distance. The enveloping vistas of Plenty and Monaro are essentially abstract fields, in which movement is less explicit and more of a sensation, whereas Scrub country suggests a sequence of flickering views seen through trees and undergrowth. The blues and yellows easily read as sky and grassland, interspersed with the subtle greens, browns and greys of bark and shrubs and soil. Using the apparently simple device of separating the columns of slats the artist constructs the negative spaces as tangible forms, which translate as the trees and saplings that break up the informal patchwork of a scrub landscape.
With the drink-crate assemblages Gascoigne introduced text as a crucial component in her oeuvre (which she later explored with the retro-reflective road sign works), and in the present work the timbers carry the stencilled names of soft-drink purveyors, connecting it with the iconography of pop art. The repetition of evocative words such as 'sparkling', 'sapphire' and 'crystal' contribute to the reading of Scrub country as a form of landscape, and seem to directly allude to the qualities of clarity and crispness the artist prized in the air and light of the Monaro. Gascoigne's background in literature and love of poetry was crucial to her practice and the repetition, fragmentation and juxtaposition of words in this work suggest the associative words and phrases of modern poetry. The title, arrived at like all her works after the fact, exemplifies her fine grasp of metaphor, and is inextricably linked with the conceptual register of the work.
In its format and simplicity Scrub country has correspondences with the great New Zealand painter Colin McCahon's multi-panelled landscape variations and, in its formal vertical rigour and absence of horizon, the dense Sherbrooke Forest paintings of Fred Williams. And the work's visual ambiguity, its mercurial surface and shifting views, aligns it with the landscape investigations of Cézanne. The faded colours so redolent of the Australian bush echo those the artist admired in the fifteenth-century paintings of Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico. With no formal art training behind her Rosalie Gascoigne nonetheless developed a sophisticated personal relationship with art history whose influences on her own practice were subtle and often oblique.
The aesthetic of Scrub country, like much of her practice, hovers between minimalism and the lyrical evocation of Australian landscape, both envisioned through the manipulation of materials that wear the patina and scars of their previous lives. This is one of the startling achievements of Gascoigne's art, and is evident in the present work the sensual representation of formalist order through the re-presentation and transformation of found materials. In reshaping her unlikely materials she recreated the patterns and rhythms, air and sky of her country, and so re-imagined the Australian landscape.
1 Deborah Edwards, Rosalie Gascoigne: Material as Landscape, exh. cat., Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1997, p. 13