‘The work does not shout or demand, it reveals itself slowly.’ Hilarie Mais, 2016
Featuring 20 major works, the exhibition is a close collaboration between the artist and the exhibition curators Blair French (MCA Director, Curatorial and Digital) and Manya Sellers (MCA Assistant Curator). This exhibition traces the last decade of Mais’ practice, since her last survey at the Drill Hall Gallery at ANU in Canberra in 2004.
Mais is best known for her constructions and paintings that merge the formal structure of the grid with an interest in organic forms found in nature. These patterns and sequences are often drawn from the growth of biological forms. Beginning with a geometric pattern the work then develops organically and instinctually, with Mais incorporating a highly personalised application of paint. Resulting works appear to shimmer optically, drawing the viewer’s eyes back and forth through their cycles of line and colour.
Despite the systematic quality of the work, Hilarie Mais notes: ‘The outcome cannot be predetermined; it evolves, it can be a surprise.’
MCA Director, Curatorial and Digital, Blair French said: ‘Hilarie Mais further establishes MCA’s commitment to supporting Australian and international artists at all stages of their careers. It is a privilege to work with Mais’ whose practice is of great maturity, evidenced in part by the trust in simple materials, forms and processes, and by the way a particular form can be returned to over and over again, producing new meaning.’
Three key threads of the artist’s practice can be seen in the exhibition. The first includes work where a ‘ghosting’ of colour appears to be formed between the work and the wall, drawing the eye beyond the material form and structure of the work to the perceptual field it creates around itself. The second approach is represented in the ongoing Tempus series of paintings, in which Mais returns over and over again to the basic relationship between the square/grid and circle/spiral systems as an underlying structure for making painted wall-based constructions. The third is represented in a multiple component work, Nomad (2006–12), produced as a colour spectrum – another system used within the history of abstract art – based upon waste plastics collected by Mais over a number of years.
Mais has always sought to personalise abstraction by emphasising the handmade quality of her work. MCA Assistant Curator, Manya Sellers concludes: ‘The presence of the artist is always evident in Mais’ work. Her grids are obviously hand-constructed and hand-painted, and their overall dimensions determined in relation to her own body, never larger than the outstretched reach of her arms. If ‘mistakes’ occur they are left uncorrected, a celebration of the imperfect and the human.’
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication covering the whole of Mais’ career, presenting and discussing some of her very first artworks through to new work produced for this exhibition. It includes an extensive overview essay, artist interview and a number of focus texts on selected bodies of work. The publication will be available for purchase at the MCA Store and online at www.mca.com.au/store.
After its presentation at the MCA, the exhibition tours to TarraWarra Museum of Art, VIC, commencing 24 February – 29 April 2018, and the Drill Hall Gallery, ACT, from 7 June to 29 July 2018.
The exhibition is free entry and runs from Wednesday 23 August until Sunday 19 November 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.