Robyn Sweaney

Road Trip - from here... to there... and places in between

October 22 - November 5 2011

"It is about giving myself space, a time to daydream and explore notions of where I have come from (the familiar), where I am passing through, and the unknown direction I am heading towards." Robyn Sweaney August 2011

The physical structures within which we live and work possess functional and symbolic qualities, and are usually an interweaving of both. Robyn Sweaney confesses other people's houses have always fascinated her and for many years they have been the inspiration and subject matter of her art. The streets in the small Northern Rivers township where she lives are lined with modest, post-war dwellings, all outwardly generic in design and set in tidy spacious grounds. "They represent homes, not just houses," she stresses. "I am intrigued by the way people express themselves in creative and resourceful ways within the boundaries of their own environments. My portraits of houses are really mementos, keepsakes for the future, or for myself."

Sweaney tells that up until recently, the surrounding rural landscape seemed more of a backdrop to her life. She describes her connection to it as seeming distant, merely catching glimpses of it while passing through in her car. This new body of work references a very different state of mind and being. With family living in Victoria, she has many times made the two to three day road trip to visit them, but earlier this year, for the first time she travelled back alone. The "verdant rolling hills" and the climb to the top of the range and then the descent to the plains with their "endless space, distant views and open skies" afforded the chance to quietly reflect. "This time I gave myself permission to stop and take in this familiar, yet unknown landscape of the road and towns I had travelled through many times."

The Road Trip exhibition is described by Sweaney as "a travelogue that investigates the places that people inhabit - viewed as voyeur not as participant." She continues, "Although the series of images are snapshots of the outer identity of buildings in the small towns and varied landscapes encountered along the way, for me it became more than an external experience. My feelings and imaginings shifted and changed towards the notion of it being not only a physical journey, but also an interior journey."

The open road holds infinite repositories of undiscovered things - things so well known they are seldom well seen. Sweaney's works give access to dimensions of reality that normally allude us amidst the bustle and visual noise of urban, contemporary life. Through a distillation of observed phenomena she conjures a mood of introspection and stasis. There is a sense of time suspended in the complete absence of all activity. The only human occupant in these pictures is the viewer. Referencing the remoteness of locale, Sweaney's characteristic leaden-hued skies are now softer and more expansive over her architectural subjects. The passing parade of quirky signage and fleeting evidences of human habitation are captured in cameo-like drawings, sensitively rendered with an affable bemusement.

Sweaney's works sensitively document a way of life now in flux due to changing cultural values, but they are also quite extraordinary aesthetic statements in their own right. The paintings are thoughtfully constructed with meticulous attention to detail, colour interactions and compositional factors. There is a curiously flat kind of perfection to the surfaces of her canvases. The brushwork is hardly evident and the geometric purity of sharply focused shapes enables attention to be focused directly on the subject. These are qualities that have earned Sweaney national recognition and many awards including showings in this year's Moran and Wynne Prizes.

Although truthful visual reports, our paramount interest lies in the impression that Sweaney's buildings signify something beyond their prosaic facades. Much about the fastidiously manicured ‘worlds' and open landscapes suggests they are also places of mind or memory. Her works represent an endeavour to know what lies behind the appearance and transience of the things we see and experience. They may be devoid of people but not of compassion, hope and humanity. There is a sense of gentle lamentation for what we may have lost without even realising it on our busy, day-to-day dashes from here... to there... and places in-between...


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