Resplendent, a brief history of women through art

FEMALE FORWARD: New England Regional Art Museum curator Rachael Parsons talks about her first all-female collection, Resplendent.

FEMALE FORWARD: New England Regional Art Museum curator Rachael Parsons talks about her first all-female collection, Resplendent.

FROM the centre of the room, the colours are so seamless you almost fail to notice that you are sitting in the middle of a brief history of women – curated by Rachael Parsons.

Resplendent, an all-female exhibition turns the spotlight on those that have, in the art world, been largely ignored.

“I think there have been improvements but there are still huge disparities, and that’s worth continued attention,” Ms Parsons said.

“This exhibition used a very loose thematic which was colour – colour is something that women have been particularly adept at and experimental with.

“We see a lot of experimentation and quite innovative use of colour, women have consistently been at the forefront of that experimentation.”

The exhibition itself is not overtly feminist, there’s no sign above the door that reads “No Boys Allowed” – but there is a feeling of quiet indignation.

A lot of the older work features household objects, still life or floral arrangements.

“There was a shift in modernism to an importance in the domestic space, instead of your home being a place where you slept and lived – how your home looked became more and more important,” she said.

“Still life and interiors was a genre of painting women were encouraged to do, because they weren’t really able to contribute to historic painting which was considered to be the height of painting.

“They weren’t allowed to do life drawing because it was considered too risky.”

As a woman, Ms Parsons said she her own challenges give her a more detailed insight into the way these artists may have felt.

“I think there’s something to be said about people from within a marginalised group having that voice and giving that perspective – I think that’s critical, especially when you’re working with something like Indigenous art,” she said.

“There’s sensitivities and protocols and aspects that can’t be understood by someone who’s outside of that.”

The exhibition is open until August 13 at the New England Regional Art Museum.

RESPLENDENT: New England Regional Art Museum director Robert Heather is excited to present an all-women exhibition. The exhibition was curated by Rachel Parsons.

RESPLENDENT: New England Regional Art Museum director Robert Heather is excited to present an all-women exhibition. The exhibition was curated by Rachel Parsons.

Word from the director

The new exhibition Resplendent: Female artists in the NERAM collections offers visitors a colourful vision of the artworks that has been produced by women over the past 100 years in Australia.

New England Regional Art Museum director Robert Heather said they wanted to showcase how important women artists have been in the development of Australian art, and the amazing range of works in the gallery collection.

“What is interesting is that the nationally significant Howard Hinton Collection includes many women artists from the 1920s to 40s, an era when women artists were effectively ignored in Australian art history,” he said.

“The display opens with a selection of works by Armidale born artist Thea Proctor who studied at New England Girls School before becoming a leading light in the Australian and international art scene in the first half of the twentieth century, one of the few women artists of the era whose talents were widely recognised.”

The exhibition explores the work of women artists in experimenting with colour from the early 1900s through to the present day and includes works by a range of leading artists including Cressida Campbell, Elisabeth Cummings, Mary Edwards, Barbara Hanrahan, Elaine Haxton, Nora Heysen, Mandy Martin, Charlotte Moorman, Margaret Olley and Margaret Preston.

Exhibition curator Rachel Parsons said Resplendent examines the ongoing fascination with colour as a starting point to make connections between the works of women found at NERAM.

“The works range from the marginalised genres of flower paintings and still lifes through to large scale abstract works, but an enduring theme is how artists have often returned to depicting images of domestic life as a symbol of feminist independence with creative expression and personal identity,” she said.

“Another strength is the range of portraits where there is often an intimacy and openness which perhaps reflects the familiarity and friendship that is made possible by their shared experiences and sensibility as women.”

Hundreds gathered at the harbour for Sydney Writers' Festival 2016.

Hundreds gathered at the harbour for Sydney Writers' Festival 2016.

Writers’ festival is live and local

After the success of Live & Local in 2016, the Sydney Writers’ Festival will return to Armidale for the weekend of May 26 to 28.

One of Australia’s best-loved forums for literature, ideas and storytelling, the Sydney Writers’ Festival will stream its headline events from Roslyn Packer Theatre in Walsh Bay direct to cities and towns throughout the country. 

The Armidale venue will be the newly opened War Memorial Library.

So prepare to be stimulated and engaged by conversations, debates and discussions as the Festival brings the world’s finest authors to Armidale in real time.

As well as hearing new ideas from great thinkers, audiences can participate in Q&A sessions at each event, sending questions direct to the Sydney stage via a live feed.

Live & Local will be facilitated by the the Armidale Regional Council and the New England Writers’ Centre.

For information about guest speakers and program details at swf.org.au/live.