Catalogue Essay: The View From Here

By Eileen Abood

The View From Here is an exhibition about the process of slowing down and reflecting upon our experiences and reactions to the constructed, civilised world in which we live. Through their paintings Kate McKay and Angelica Roache-Wilson invite their audience to question their own relationship to real and imagined landscapes as they explore the psychological dimensions inspired by inner city living.

Intimately sized works in oil explore the concept of how we respond to the information saturated environment of the urban landscape. As Roache-Wilson simply puts it “we are both dealing with being in the world.” For McKay this has led to an escape into inner landscapes of untouched wilderness, devoid of civilisation’s presence. In contrast, Roache-Wilson’s approach is to filter understandable interpretations of urban space through abstract works inspired by the highly constructed and designed world around her. Each artist brings their own unique perspective to questions of perception, the self and landscape.

The medium of paint is integral to both these artists’ practice and to the reflective nature of the exhibition. McKay notes that the process of painting and being a painter is an unusual phenomenon within our fast-paced and consumerist Western culture. She explains that when she enters her studio it’s as if she has stepped away from everyday distractions and entered reality—“I’m present when I’m in my studio and I’m engaging with my feelings and [physically involved] in production.”

Roache-Wilson finds that her practice is endlessly informed by her urban surroundings which she reads as a fascinating multi-authored visual script. In the works in The View From Here the flow of meaning from urban spaces is disrupted through a reduction and melding of colour, form and texture. Reflecting on recognising the point of resolution in her works she states “you don’t even have to try to understand [the principles of design and composition]. It’s just there… If you go with the flow then your experience just takes over.”

McKay relates to this intuitive process explaining that she is “drawn” to her colour choices when working with ideas of imagined spaces within this exhibition. However, unlike Roache-Wilson, McKay’s works have been carefully prepared; her compositions sketched out and tested. Yet the control of her preparation gives way when she begins her paintings, “lobbing on paint” and working back and forth with textured brushstrokes. Her use of sophisticated tonal variations create depth and space that draw the viewer in. 

In The View From Here McKay’s works are largely monochromatic, jewel-toned portals that offer glimpses into unknown, wild places. Each piece has been carefully prepared and executed in contrast to Roache-Wilson’s restless, seemingly spontaneous creations.

While McKay’s process involves connecting emotionally with her work, Roache-Wilson tries to achieve the opposite. She explains “when I’m making work I try to zone out… to do things automatically.” She intuitively engages with her materials and composition, responding to the found and recycled surfaces on which she paints. Entering her creative process through doodling exercises, Roache-Wilson tries to relax into a state where she is not trying to consciously control the process—“If I think about it too much it becomes unnatural and forced.”

In Roache-Wilson’s works the free form brushstrokes and decisive gestures belie the laboured effort and deliberation within the layered compositions. Through the unobtrusive size of her works, she invites her audience to see them as images and engage with their surface, their physicality and formal tensions. To view them as part of the urban visual language from which they were derived, their anonymous referents something for the viewer to wonder at. When approaching her work she wants the viewer to remain present, rather than being absorbed into an alternate world as in McKay’s work.

 While both artists are inspired by their experiences of living in Brisbane’s inner city suburbs, McKay’s current body of work reflects her attraction to the cathartic escape of the West End parklands and the slim traces of wilderness along the banks of the Brisbane River. McKay’s compositions are spiritual and surreal inner worlds where we can escape civilisation via the myth of an untouched and vast wilderness. These are spaces of fluid emotional and psychological connections that invite the viewer to imagine themselves as the sole figure sometimes featured amid a wide and desolate landscape. In this region the viewer is free of their surroundings and in an immense space of possibility.

Both McKay and Roache-Wilson work on multiple paintings at a time as part of their creative process. This method allows the artists to create relationships across different paintings and layer meaning as they strive to resolve their works. Across Roache-Wilson’s paintings there is a balance and a rhythm to them that is underpinned by a complex tertiary pallet.  Similarly McKay’s narrative works flow into one another and can be read as a shifting inner journey. McKay remarks “they are fluid spaces, unstable and not entirely welcoming.” She feels that if she were to find herself in these worlds it would be “peaceful, quiet and still. A place isolated from others to reflect.”

Both McKay and Roache-Wilson studied together at the Queensland College of Art, majoring in Interdisciplinary Painting together and graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours at the end of 2013. The solid body of new works presented in The View From Here is an exciting demonstration of the creative energy these two women bring to the Brisbane art scene and I look forward to watching their practices grow and evolve in the years to come.

Eileen Abood graduated from Queensland College of Art in 2012 majoring in Art Theory. Her recent publications include an essay on Race and Gender for the Common Woman Exhibition Catalogue (2014) and an interview with the Australia Council of Visual Arts Award recipient Tracey Moffatt (2013). Abood is currently based in Canberra while completing a Masters in International Studies from the University of Queensland. 

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