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Rosalie Gascoigne

Tiger Tiger  1987

reflective material, wood

2 parts:110.5 × 111cm each

Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC, 1995

1995.166A-B

About the Artwork

Tiger Tiger is a well-known work made from reflective road signs that flash and flare when they catch the light. Cut up and reassembled in a grid, the clear directional language of the original signs is fragmented, the letters are scattered and their meaning incomprehensible. The real meaning of the work lies in the experience of the found, weathered and reconfigured material and the play of light upon it.

Although the letters across the surface of Tiger Tiger do not cohere, language is central to its layered play of meaning. Gascoigne’s early training was in literature rather than the visual arts, and language infuses her work. Her assemblages are frequently referred to as visual poetry and share with modern poetry the construction techniques of fragmentation, repetition and juxtaposition. She often commented that her collaged use of text in works forms a sort of ‘stammering concrete poetry’.

Gascoigne’s titles are always significant and she named this work after English poet William Blake’s 1794 rumination on the beauty and horror of nature, The Tyger. She frequently referred to Tiger Tiger in order to explain how a title would come to her in contemplation, following the completion of a work (see Artist Statement). If the visual effects of Gascoigne’s works are open-ended and experiential, the titles reflect formal qualities that are evocative, personal and precise – providing a point of entry into the work without being prescriptive. Just as Blake’s description of the animal begins, ‘Tyger tyger burning bright’, Gascoigne’s title points to the bold yellow and black colouring and its bright reflection. Similarly, the repetition in the title Tiger Tiger mirrors the two square panels of the diptych and the regular grid evokes the ordered patternation of the animal’s pelt, like Blake’s ‘fearful symmetry’.
It is this interplay between the texts of Romantic poem and road signage, like the flash of light across the surface of the work, that captivates our attention, thrills the senses and serves to expand and sharpen our perception of the natural world.

… Like, when I was doing Tiger Tiger, the recent work. I do them in the studio and then bring them inside and I just like to watch them, when they’re not watching me, and vice versa … and it was there, standing up against the table, and I went past it and just said ‘Tiger Tiger’, and I just knew that was its name, you see, and it was … it was the squareness, and the yellow flashing tiger crouching in the grass with grass all over its face, a sort of threat … as road signs are, and, to me, it was the right name.
 
Ewen Macdonald interview with Rosalie Gascoigne, 18 October 1988, Rosalie Gascoigne Archive.

Rosalie Gascoigne, 1988

Rosalie Gascoigne

– About the artist

Born 1917, Auckland, New Zealand. Lived and worked Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Died 1999, Canberra.


Rosalie Gascoigne was born in New Zealand and arrived in the Monaro/Canberra region in 1943. She spent the rest of her life there. Gascoigne is best known for her distinctive and poetic assemblages of mostly found materials: wood, iron, wire, feathers, and yellow and orange retro-reflective road signs, which flash and glow in the light. She brought these items from everyday life into new frames of reference, often finding beauty in overlooked things that had been discarded and left to weather.

Some of her other best-known works use faded, once-bright drinks crates, thinly-sliced yellow Schweppes boxes, ragged domestic items such as torn floral lino and patchy enamelware, and vernacular building materials such as galvanised tin, corrugated iron and masonite. These objects represent, rather than accurately depict, elements of the world around her: the landscape around her home in Canberra and the materials and textures of rural life. Text is another important element of Gascoigne’s work; she would cut up and rearrange the faded lettering found on these items to create abstract yet evocative grids of letters and word fragments. In later years both colour and text seemed to fade from her work, and she began to create meditative, elegiac compositions of white or earth-brown panels.

Gascoigne came to art late in life. Holding her first exhibition in 1974 at age 57, her career spanned 25 years, during which time her work was exhibited widely both in Australia and internationally until her death in 1999. In 1978 Gascoigne was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and four years after that she was chosen to represent Australia at the 1982 Venice Biennale. Her works are held in most public collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; New Parliament House, Canberra; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A major retrospective of Gascoigne’s work was exhibited at the Wellington City Gallery in 2004. She was awarded an Order of Australia in 1994 for her services to art. A monograph, Rosalie Gascoigne was published in 1998.

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