Robyn Sweaney

The Nature Of Things

March 24 - April 7 2018

Robyn Sweaney is renowned for her images of houses that signify something beyond their often unremarkable facades. A distillation of observed and remembered phenomena, her paintings conjure a sense of introspective quietude. She has always been interested in architectonic precepts, particularly those pertaining to post-war Modernism. Her new body of work however, has been subtly infused with ideas fostered as a consequence of reading the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius' theories. He believed that architecture affected the everyday life of citizens and therefore should emulate the universal laws of nature. Vitruvius in turn had been inspired by the writings of the earlier Greek philosopher Epicurus who taught: The greatest good is to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility. It is not what we have but what we enjoy, that constitutes our abundance.

"I guess that is where the concept and title for the show came from," Sweaney discloses. "It implies that houses and streetscapes can also function as aesthetic incarnations of belief structures. In painting the current works I found I was able to combine an expression of place with philosophical and poetic ideas."

Philosophical rumination accompanied Sweaney's recent ‘annual pilgrimage' south from Mullumbimby, where she has lived for many years, to visit family and the Victorian landscapes of childhood. "My feelings and imaginings encompassed the notion of it being not only a physical journey, but also an interior journey," she muses. Instead of the usual few weeks, Sweaney was to spend three months amid the coastal areas of Portland and the Mornington Peninsula.

"Residencies, travelling to new places and revisiting past landscapes has become an extremely important element to inspire new bodies of work," says Sweaney. She understands that much like the pilgrimages made in bygone eras, people today have an innate need to leave their everyday lives behind and set off to experience the Epicurus-like ideal of an uplifting, less complicated existence for a while.

Glimpsed through twisted tea trees and native shrubs, Sweaney's depictions of beach shacks and basic holiday accommodation evince this pursuit of an intangible ‘something'. "Over time they have "grounded themselves into their environments; foliage and grass softening the harsh edges of paths and roads," she recounts. With few enclosing fences or manicured gardens the senses are free to delight in an untrammelled natural world of "open skies and salt-laden winds". "The days spent in these temporary, imperfect abodes are precious," Sweaney continues. "These places embody the primary concept of ‘getting back to nature'."

The exhibition also includes still lifes that mark a return to the subjects Sweaney had painted at the beginning of her career. Collecting foliage and pre-loved ceramic ware as travel mementos has remained an ongoing passion. "Fresh native foliage soon becomes dry and brittle but it still retains a sense of my connection to the landscapes I'd experienced," she explains.

"Whilst going back to locations from the past reinforced memories, it also gave emphasis to the present, the passage of time and my place within it," Sweaney reveals. "In the new works there is certainly evidence of romanticism and renewal." Although her paintings sensitively document a way of life now in flux 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 curious perfection to the surfaces of her canvases and boards, the brushwork hardly evident.

The refinement of Sweaney's engagement with her subject matter has resulted in her winning the Allan Gamble Memorial Prize, the Mosman Art Prize and the Border Art Prize. It has also earned her multiple representations in many of the nation's most prestigious art awards: Portia Geach Memorial Award; Doug Moran National Portrait Prize; Sulman Prize; Wynne Prize for Landscape; Fleurieu Art Prize; Gallipoli Art Prize; Salon des Refuses; Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize, Paddington Art Prize; Mosman Art Prize; Northern Rivers Portrait Prize; Tattersall's Club Landscape Prize; Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize; JADA, Jacaranda Drawing Prize; EMSLA, Still Life Award and the Country Energy Art Prize.? In 2016 her paintings were exhibited in the Popular Pet Show exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Sweaney's work is held in public and private collections throughout Australia, including the State Library of NSW, Artbank, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, Tweed Regional Gallery, Stanthorpe, Grafton and Lismore Regional Galleries.



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