Yvonne Boag

In "Sydney Surrounds," Scottish-born Australian painter Yvonne Boag orchestrates energised - almost liquefying - encounters with a landscape at once familiar and made more strange by each brushstroke.

In Moruya Sunset 1, 2021, Yvonne Boag undertakes the painterly equivalent of holding the positive ends of two (or perhaps more – perhaps innumerable) magnets together. The logic of the painting is one of competing horizontal energies: charged shapes and colours are held in proximity, approaching each other impossibly, thrillingly.  Sparks fly between a mercurial sweep of oranges and reds across the top half of the frame and the firm quadrilateral form (coloured, tripartite, like a tub of Neapolitan ice-cream) they seem about to crash into. Through the lower half, forms evoking the geological and the more slyly organic jostle for space. Where is the sun? Nowhere. Everywhere. 

Boag has led a wandering life. Born in Scotland, she has split the last twenty years between Australia and South Korea, with earlier periods spent in Europe, Japan, and the Lockhart River Aboriginal Community on Cape York. A sense of dislocation ripples over her work on location – that is, her work in landscape. Text for the exhibition frames Boag’s experience of  ruptured belonging as generative: “Her work embodies the discomfort experienced when you don’t belong. At the same time this experience of place lends a genuine sense of curiosity and hyper-awareness to her art practice.” The paintings comprising this exhibition are close, attentive studies of Sydney and its surrounds, seen through the eyes and painted through the brush of an artist who is clearly devoted to this place – to experiencing it sensorially, to pressing on it visually, and to rendering it anew, over and over – without necessarily feeling as if she can disclose its secrets fully. 

These works push landscape to its outer reaches of abstraction, in a graphic visual vocabulary. The shapes feel, often, as though they are reaching toward the condition of the sign. In Bargo River, 2021, for example, a thicket of interweaving – though never quite interlocking – forms, likely “representing” branches, clamber towards the gestural. Look, they seem to say, can’t you see we have something urgent to tell you?

The clue, ultimately, about the relationship of these abstract forms to representation of a landscape, or to meaning, is in the quality of the paint itself: it’s stridently opaque. Maybe Boag isn’t trying to give anything away; rather, she is loaning us sharp senses: of sight, of touch, of tenderness and closeness and distance. These paintings are to be looked at closely, not in the hope of actually arriving at resolution, but in the liveliness of reaching for it.

Yvonne Boag: Sydney Surrounds
2 – 27 November, 2021
Stella Downer Fine Art, Sydney

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