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Rosalie Gascoigne

Piece to Walk Around  1981

saffron thistle sticks

470 × 390cm, installed

Museum of Contemporary Art, donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by the Gascoigne Family, 2011


About the Artwork

Piece to Walk Around is a microcosm of the landscape of the Monaro, in the southwest of New South Wales, where Rosalie Gascoigne lived from 1943. This environment provided the experiences and the materials that shaped her work, found on her journeys through it. Piece to Walk Around refers directly to the experience of moving through the Australian landscape, titled to draw attention to the changing visual effects as one circles the work and the shifting play of light on the natural material.

Comprised of a patchwork of bundles of saffron thistle stalks arranged in 20 squares lying on the floor in alternating directions, it resembles the undulating countryside, the ordering of agriculture and industry, and the mottled effects of light and shadow upon it. The work conveys a sense of the infinite expansiveness and liberation experienced in the country, as manifested in the grid’s open-ended structure to which additional bundles of thistles could theoretically be added or subtracted.

Gascoigne’s work from the early-1980s reveal a sophisticated aesthetic – an engagement with Minimalism’s orderliness and pre-occupation with the grid, and an almost Japanese mixture of formal composition and attention to nature. It was this sense of ‘order with randomness’ which Gascoigne recognised as an essential feature of the Monaro-Canberra region, and which resonates in the ‘careful-careless’ effect of this assemblage. Created only seven years after her first solo show in 1974, this work has a remarkable maturity and balance, achieved through a lifetime of looking at the landscape.

This is a piece for walking around and contemplating. It is about being in the country with its shifting light and shades of grey, its casualness and its prodigality. The viewer’s response to the landscape may differ from mine, but I hope this picture will convey some sense of the countryside that produced it: and that an extra turn or two around the work will induce in the viewer the liberating feeling of being in the open country.

Rosalie Gascoigne, n.d.

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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