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An abstract blast from the present

Sydney Morning Herald - SMH 19/2/2011

John Macdonald

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As floods follows droughts, the art dealers are hoping a new year will bring clients rushing back through their doors. The previous 12 months were so quiet and visitation so poor that 2011 simply has to be better. This may be an optimistic view, but only an optimist would ever open a commercial gallery. The problem has not been the quality of the shows but the dogged reluctance of buyers to succumb to their acquisitive impulses. The money was there but self-denial was practices with a rigour that is rarely seen in Sydney. As usual there are many shows crying out for attention, but at the risk of making an arbitrary connection, I’ll look at three exhibitions by three young painters working in completely different styles.. Sophie Cape, at the Tim Olsen Gallery is making her debut…  Cape, who is the youngest of these three artists but perhaps, the most confidant. As opposed to Wallace’s dogged realism and McMonagle’s exaggerated delicacy, Cape has produced a series of large abstract works on paper that roar aggressively from Tim Olsen’s demure white walls. One could argue that it is much easier to get a convincing result with a vigorous splash of ink or paint than through the painstaking construction of recognisable images. This may be true, but an abstract expressionist work succeeds only when it conveys a feeling that short-circuits our habitual urge to discern a figure in every brush stroke. Cape’s work could never be seen wildly original, being reminiscent of a school of gestural abstraction that flourished in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, but it has a forcefulness that is impossible to deny. Part of that impact comes from a severely restricted palette: nothing but black and white, grey and brown, with fragments of collage and splashes of bitumen. The background to these pictures – and to their rather melodramatic titles such as Wreckage of the Past and Darkness Descends – is the artists history of skiing injuries that left her laid up for a year looking for some outlet for her surplus energy. As the daughter of the painter Ann Cape, art came as a natural progression, but the style that has emerged is entirely personal. Even thought we have become rightly sceptical of the idea of an artist expressing his or her innermost turmoil on canvas, there is a cathartic, explosive aspect to these pictures that does not feel self-conscious. It’s the sort of opening blast that one associates with Richard Strauss, yet as even he found, a dazzling debut may be exhilarating but at is a long-term game. 

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