Art we love: Elisabeth Cummings

In 2014, we happened upon a large scale works exhibition by Elisabeth Cummings at the Shoalhaven Art Gallery. Titled ‘Landscapes and Interiors’, it was the first time we had seen her work, big and in-the-flesh and we were captivated.

We bought all our friends the catalogue for this show and we started to notice just how many contemporary Australian artists are influenced by Cummings’ stylistic approach. Around that time, we heard Idris Murphy (another fave Australian expressionistic landscape painter) talk about how Cummings’ easy talent inspired him and his contemporaries and how they (a number of successful mid-career artists who work in this landscape abstraction style) are very much in awe and in deep respect for her unique perspective and authenticity. He mentioned the ease of her paintings and what he described as her ‘creative instincts’.

It’s true her work evokes a calmness and a peace that feels gently attuned to our land. For a non-Aboriginal artist, it is quite startling to witness the layers in her connection to country, her affinity to and ‘easy’ flow within place. She’s streets ahead of the painterly pack and she’s gotten better over time as her confidence has ripened and her sense of what feels ‘right to her’, has grown. Like a great chef mastering a number of complex ingredients, we find her gestural, textured works, just ‘melt in the eyes’ delicious!

Known for her large abstract paintings and prints, Cummings has won numerous awards including Fleurieu Art Prize, The Portia Geach and the Mosman Art Prize. Born in 1934 (she’s 86) and hailing from Brisbane, she later moved to an artist’s community at Wedderburn – established in the early 70s with fellow artists Roy Jackson and John Peart and via a generous donation of land by patrons Barbara & Nick Romalise.

Cummings is one of Australia’s most respected living artists, particularly within her peer circles and the owner of a career spanning over 60 years. She studied at the National Art School in Sydney and was awarded the AGNSW Travelling Art Scholarship in 1958. She also honed her style in Italy and lived in Europe for a decade painting and, for a short time, studying under Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg. You can see some of those modernist influences, particularly in her use of colour but perhaps not so much in her composition and line work, which seems uniquely Cummings.

Her bold use of colour and exaggerated, expressive mark-making is her signature approach to the Australian landscape and the occasional interior. An intrepid traveller, she’s continued her journeys around the Australian bush, painting smaller ‘en plein air’ works as well as larger pieces back in the studio. She frequently returns to Wedderburn, where she finds unending subject matter in the interior of her studio and the surrounds she knows so well.

The National Art School in Sydney’s new exhibition of Cumming’s work “Radiance: Showcasing the Artistry of Elisabeth Cummings”, is a magnificent exhibition that honors one of the School's most revered and extraordinary alumni. This exhibition highlights the artist's unique visual expression and unparalleled mastery of color, featuring significant pieces created over the past thirty years, carefully selected from both public and private art collections.

Cummings’ lyrical, poetic marks, lines and textures along with her illuminated colour palette artfully attuned to our distinctly Australian light and shadow, echoes through with sunny yellows, glossy russets, olive greens and ochres, golds and fuchsias and dune-ish off-whites.

Watch this great interview where she describes the colours and textures of Arrernte Country. She has spent time there in the past, sitting in dry riverbeds and painting, re-interpreting the subtleties of colour and shape around her. Using mediums as simple as gouache and water, she talks through her artistic process, something she calls ‘look and put’. The ease of it all! We love.

See more at King Street Galleries.

Image: Elisabeth Cummings, Mornington, Kimberley, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 175 cm Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist and King Street Gallery on William

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