Grace Burzese

Grace Burzese’s survey exhibition at the Shoalhaven Regional Gallery considers the connections between artworks that span twenty-eight years of the artist’s practice, finding at its centre a sustained preoccupation with colour and line.

Grace Burzese’s energetic abstract work Cocoon, 2013, layers cobalt blue against wine red and white. The brushwork is gestural. The application of paint to the canvas is spontaneous and layered, simultaneously offering both depth and light. It’s this contrast of intensely cool and sedately warm that animates Cocoon, which, like so much of Burzese’s work from this time and later in her career, reveals the artist’s underlying preoccupation with how colour and line can create space. 

“There has to be some kind of tension in the work,” explains Burzese. “Even though the works are often about some sense of beauty or being in the world, they can’t just be straight-up beautiful, or pretty.” 

At the time of writing, Burzese is in the final planning stages for her upcoming survey at Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, which opens in July and will include many of the artist’s process-based abstract works, including some works of aluminium sculpture. Titled Points on a Path, the exhibition is curated by Max Dingle OAM, and will provide a critical understanding of Burzese’s work over the past twenty-eight years, documenting the evolution of the artist’s practice – as surveys are often tasked – but also revealing how these works relate to one another independently of any chronology.

Points on a Path will include large-scale abstract canvases like Let it Shake, 2011, with its imposing measure of black ignited by vibrant pink and red, alongside earlier, subdued experimentations with beeswax, and more recent work that pinpoints a larger change in Burzese’s practice. “There’s got to be an edge to them that almost doesn’t work,” Burzese says. It’s going “off-kilter” that really interests her. This is where Burzese realises more abstracted states of being, and finds in her marks an embodied representation that is non-referential. 

“We all live in the world in somewhat abstracted states. The way we perceive things is so centred around our personal experiences and the filters we apply to things. Abstraction, or not trying to define things in a particularly representational way, is where there’s a real honesty or openness to what the work itself is saying,” Burzese says. This intentionally leaves interpretation open and allows the audience to experience their own response. “I hope the paintings allude to something beyond themselves, but I’m quite happy at the same time if people just enjoy them for their formal qualities as well,” she adds.

A preoccupation with space extends into the artist’s more recent work, although the work itself is changed in some obvious ways. The same bold use of colour and line remains, but there’s a different rhythm and palette: Burzese’s recently completed work takes layering to another level, sometimes in vibrant acid green, turquoise, and pink. You might think the increased intensity of colour in a work like Green Horizontals, 2022, would distract from the artist’s consideration of space, but the effect is quite different. Here, colour emphasises line and overall composition. 

A change in scale towards the smaller and more intimate has led to experimentation with different mediums, line, and colour, which is especially noticeable in the introduction of circular forms in some works, such as Light Particles, 2020. In this work, touches of cobalt blue ground against a jostling space of bright pink, yellow, and green, amid rounded white forms that almost glow softly in relief.  

The change is in part due to an important series of thirty-five-by-thirty-centimetre boards, including the eye-popping Pink Diagonals, 2016-2021. For almost six years, Burzese continued to work over this smaller abstract along with forty or so others, continually adding and layering each one. “I’ve just really enjoyed that. It’s really opened up different ways of mark-making, or even different materials,” she says. 

The scale has allowed her to experiment with her mark-making in new ways. “I sort of pulled back on [large scale] a bit over the years . . . I reduced the scale and have seen where that’s led me,” she says. “It’s almost like I went into myself a little bit and challenged what I was doing. It was a little more comfortable to work on a smaller scale and break new things open.” 

While there is a noticeable shift in Burzese’s language and materiality, the underlying preoccupation with colour and line is evident across the survey exhibition. 

“I’ve always loved colour and I think that really shines through in this show as well. I was very interested in exploring mark-making primarily through line in the past,” she explains, highlighting the subtle shifts in her practice that began with the series of smaller boards she worked over from 2016 to 2021. “I think there are other things coming into play now, be it shapes and how they create space, and an energy.”   

This essay was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 59, 2022.

Points on a Path
2 July – 27 August 2022
Shoalhaven Regional Gallery, New South Wales

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