Obituary for Rosalie Gascoigne AM Born Auckland 25 January 1917 Died Canberra 23 October 1999
Rosalie Gascoigne was at the time of her death in mid-flight and mid-career. She started exhibiting as an artist at 58 and wasted no time in establishing herself as one of the greatest interpreters of the Australian landscape.
With simple and direct titles such as Suddenly the lake, But mostly air, Monaro, Regeneration, Scrub Country, or Shabby Summer, her assembled wall panels or installations elevated discarded materials like wood and corrugated iron, commonplace in rural Australia, into extraordinary objects of visual poetry.
Rosalie Gascoigne's relationship to the rural landscape of this country was as profound as the justifiably acclaimed art of its indigenous inhabitants. There was never a literal representation of nature but an interpretation of the feeling which that landscape evoked. Abstract, sometimes raw looking yet formal and ordered as nature so often is, and Aboriginal art so often is.
Rosalie Gascoigne represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1982 alongside the work of Peter Booth and was given a major survey of her work in 1983 in New Zealand, the country of her birth. She participated in the Sydney Biennale in 1988, was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1994, the same year winning the Art Gallery of NSW's John McCaughy Prize. She won the Grand Prize at the Chenju Pre-Biennale, Korea in 1995 and was given a retrospective of her work at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1997 touring to the National Gallery of Australia in1998.
The Art Gallery of South Australia is fortunate to have a major installation by the artist But mostly air, as well as small works. Rosalie Gascoigne's work was shown during the 1996 Adelaide Festival.
Rosalie was a very direct person; she shot from the hip, always acknowledged the many literary quotes she was so fond of using, spoke her mind when she thought it might help. She could consider a tree without losing sight of the forest, kept a healthy sense of humour and above all knew herself and had a clear eye on where she was going. She expressed it thus in 1998: "What you're aiming at is more clarification for yourself ... hardening your own outline, what you want is an expanding universe".
Two months before her death I spent a full day with Rosalie at her request, plotting a strategy for her international career. I invited her to exhibit at ARCO (International Art Fair held yearly in Madrid -Spain) and took out full page advertisements in world art journals. We spoke about the current show in New York organised by the UN to acknowledge the art by senior living artists at the end of the century, and I was to prepare a proposal for a museum exhibition in England.
Rosalie had just completed a major new work which she referred to as being "from the Earth". Ten large brown panels, it is one of the toughest pieces she ever made.
Prophetically she said "it looks like death where do I go from here?". We spoke about death, the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore: "The home of my last days I shall build of Earth and call it Syamali, When it crumbles it will be like a falling asleep of earth." We spoke about duende that great word from Andalusia, so difficult to translate. Lorca came closest in his essay on the "Theory and Function of the Duende" in which he writes about finding duende in music, dance, song or art. Duende is the dark sound, it is from the earth, it can't be repeated, it has no greater truth. This all happened so recently that no one knew of the cancer that was to kill her, at least not at a conscious level.
Rosalie Gascoigne showed the world that duende lives.Through her works she will continue to make us re-evaluate our landscape, our values and our ideas.