Helen Maudsley

With a career spanning over seven decades, Helen Maudsley knows a thing or two about painting. The 90-year-old Melbourne artist is fluent in the ‘grammar of visual analogy’ – a phrase she uses herself to describe her complex painterly language.

Maudsley was born in 1927 and grew up in South Yarra. After studying at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, the artist attended the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in the 1940s. It was here that Maudsley met John Brack (1920-1999) and the two married in 1948. While Brack’s paintings received widespread attention for the way they captured modern urban life and Australian culture, Maudsley’s work passed gracefully under the radar – despite the fact that she has been practising daily for seven decades, staging solo exhibitions regularly since 1957.

In her ongoing exploration of visual language and analogy, Maudsley creates ‘essays’ constructed of lines, numbers, shapes, letters, geometry and symbols tracing her everyday experiences and subjective perceptions. Rendered in subdued palettes, fragments of buildings, figures and landscapes emerge from ambiguous graphic constellations like musical notes flying around in symphonic formation. This musical tenor is a conscious influence as Maudsley builds connections between the non-verbal nature of music and painting – often incorporating parts of instruments; a fingerboard, a violin scroll and a pegbox. Drawing on the history of Western art, her forms are ripe with symbolism. The paintings reveal the nuanced ways Maudsley reads the world around her, in turn provoking varied readings from the viewer – be that from psychoanalytic, associative, symbolic or purely visual perspectives.

For each work, Maudsley develops eight or so drafts in gouache before transferring the design to tracing paper and then finally on to canvas to be completed in oil. Her embrace of ambiguity and analogy is buttressed by lengthy poetic titles – which are conceived as ‘written thoughts’ – such as I’m Above You. You’re Below Me. I Know, You Don’t. It’s My Sovereignty. I Want to be in It; There’s Nothing to be in On What’s the Code, There is no Code This is Rubbish and you’re not Getting Away with It. I’m not Below You. Scrambling to Get. Scrambling to Prevent. The Hands that Save; and the Ancient Scroll, Part of Us.

The viewer must decrypt Maudsley’s visual language, which appears hieroglyphic in nature, forcing the eye to roam around the canvas as if reading a free verse poem. Ultimately, Maudsley’s paintings encourage us to look a little closer at the world around us and open our ears to the music of the everyday.

Helen Maudsley | Our Knowing And Not Knowing
5 – 30 June, 2018
Niagara Galleries, Sydney

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