Sustained Contemplative Images: Atlas Exhibition Cathy Blanchflower

Goddard de Fiddes Gallery, Perth 1 - 22 May 1998. Reviewed by Mary Livesey

To get to Goddard de Fiddes Gallery on the Upper Plaza of the towering QV1 Building, I walked over rustic flag stones past a rushing waterfall and up a high walled spiral stairway. On reaching the top of the stairs, there opened up before me the scintillating paintings of Cathy Blanchflower, which seemed to pulsate on the walls.

My first impression from the glass fronted gallery was that the works were screen-printed or mechanically made. On closer scrutiny, nothing could be further from the truth. There are seven oil on canvas paintings in this exhibition. The title comes from the small map diagrams made by the artist, from which her paintings are composed, and from photographs and digital images taken from outer space.

These photographs taken from aeroplane and satellite are the source of the paintings and the earth circle is ever prominent in them. The photographic images sometimes emerge as colour gradient maps to reveal intricate and ordered patterns of such things as pine plantations, volcanic craters, ocean and field patterns. The colours in the photographs, as well as infra-red images, excite the artist and it is from these that her chromatic colours come.

The map-like diagram the artist draws consists of two intricately segmented geometric designs, the size of postage stamps, placed side by side. The colours, as few as three or as many as twelve, are intuitively worked out. Each segment is then numbered to correspond with a colour "a bit like painting by numbers" the artists says. The design can be divided, swapped over, reversed or moved on a ninety degree angle, the mathematical possibilities are endless. A sequence is worked out like chords in music and when repeated overall, form a uniform composition that can be repeated ad infinitum. Music is very important to Cathy Blanchflower who listens avidly to electronic music with a very strong beat when painting. Before paint is applied to the canvas several rows of a grid are ruled up in pencil and the enlarged design drawn in. As the paintwork progresses this is repeated until the painting is finished. The artist works in rows, from left to right, like weaving a tapestry or writing text. The paint is deftly applied to the small complex sections in flat, carefully mixed, oil pigment. In some segments, a shimmering effect is created by allowing the canvas to subtly show through streaked brushwork. To complete the work a thick textured paint is applied in thin lines, usually circles or squares. These outlines, mostly white, sit on the surface and when placed over darker colours create startling effects as the colours they encompass are emphasised. The delicate hand of the artist is shown in the tremulous quality of the textured paint conveying a feeling of human frailty. Only soft edges appear in the paintings as no mechanical devices are used. As you scrutinize and engage, and this you must, with these astonishing paintings, optical illusions occur. When viewed from different angles, they shift, recede, advance and distort. Another exciting way to look, is by employing the method used when viewing 'Magic Eye' books. Cathy Blanchflower was born in Brighton, England in 1971 and came to Australia with her parents when she was one year old. Graduating with a B.A. (Fine Arts) from Curtin University in 1992, this gifted young artist has had many successes; her paintings are held in prominent Australian and overseas private and public collections. The sheer energy, patience and endurance given of herself to produce these incredibly intricate and vital paintings astounds me. May Cathy Blanchflower continue on her artistic journey and go far.

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