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Anne Lord 's recent exhibition , Incongruous Layerings, continues to explore and to develop the themes and techniques with which her work has been concerned for some time: the quality of marks and textures which animate the surfaces of her work, and the relationship to a particular landscape with which her family has been associated for several generations. Lord has referred in conversation to this landscape as a homeland, an emotive title suggesting a place which carries great significance in terms of personal identity and spiritual links. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents took up country in north-western Queensland, and subsequent generations of her family have continued to live and work there, taking on the responsibility for the country and being profoundly influenced by it.
This landscape has continued to provide the source of Lord's work, which has evolved consistently through painting, printmaking and installation in its attempt to devise a language of marks refined enough to carry the layers of meaning which her explorations reveal. In both the lively, interweaving brushstrokes of the paintings, and the delicate scored notations of the wood engravings, the reference to the brittle, windswept calligraphy of the north-western grasslands is apparent.
The strong colours of the earlier paintings have given way to blacks and greys, due in part to the influence of woodblock printing, in which the process begins with the black base of the inked block. In an earlier installation in the exhibition dis/PLACE Lord used the woodblock itself as an artefact, the blanks of the inked block concealing the potential image and history contained in the wood. A laterally-sliced branch of snappy gum (a very dense and tough timber which grows in western Queensland, and from which Lord cuts the blocks she uses for engraving) suggested a cutting across the linear process of history, a lateral consideration of the meanings of that snappy gum limb. Apart from its suitability for the process, Lord chooses to work with snappy gum because of its associations, allowing the work to be influenced and informed by the processes which created that particular piece of wood, the droughts, floods and fires which built the internal structure of the tree and the branch, layer by layer.
Lord's present concern with her own history suggests a lateral reading, a slicing through the continuity of ancestral connections to explore the growth rings of a specific era. Much of the work immediately preceding this exhibition invoked the metaphor of the alchemist working to dissolve boundaries in paintings that described veils of moisture and light, the illusions of mirage, the movement of wind and rain. These works consisted of layers and textures which inferred both the atmospheric turbulence of the monsoon and the illusions and concealments of history. The alchemical notion of journey and search were transformed into the artists’ personal journey and search, an exploration of her ancestral influences and the terms on which her ancestors took on the country and each other.
Incongruous Layerings includes several diptyches, male/female pairs which intercept each other's gaze, implying the relationship which persuaded women to accompany their husbands into a harsh and difficult environment. The work Stoneface relies on its title and vertical format to indicate that the glazed, cracked lumps of pale stone are heads which acknowledge each other across dark fields of grass. Hung horizontally these works would read as landscapes, and the faces share the character of the landscape, features eroded by perpetual exposure to a harsh environment. This paring down to simple solid forms suggests the equivalent paring down of emotions and relationships.
In the smaller works on perspex the figures are more easily read, and the dynamic which links/divides them is more explicit. The female image is slightly smaller, the male compelling and dominating. Lord's reference to her ancestors is an acknowledgement of the human relationship to landscape-the insertion of the portrait, albeit an abstracted image, is a deliberate shift from the more symbolic images of previous work (the nixie, the doorway, the lake). This suggests a shift from exploring landscape as psychological territory to an examination of the implications of a more specific historic relationship.
The works on perspex also suggest an influence from printmaking, in the use of a surface which is both impenetrable and transparent, creating a layer of images which float against their own cast shadows. The use of fast, free brushstrokes to build up layers of texture and energy reflect a continuing preoccupation with the physical surface of the work, which is explored more deliberately in the diptych Looking into Black/Read my Glaze and the works Incongruous Layerings I and II. In these works the carefully applied layers of matt and gloss brush marks read variously as one moves around the work, colour retreating into and emerging out of predominantly black grounds, the surface simultaneously reflecting and absorbing light. This concern with surface applies both to the quality of the painted surface itself, the absorption and suspension of pigments, and to the inferences of textural ambiguity in the meaning of the work. Stoneface and the works on perspex use this textural ambiguity to reinforce the ambiguity of the relationships between man and woman, man and country, woman and country. The remaining black works, with their mysterious bloom of colour (rich orange, deep blue) which glows and fades disturbingly, hint at other layerings, and alchemical references which have informed Lord's earlier work.
The use of the diptych and the portrait gaze to set up a relationship across space is a logical development from Lord's concern with the manipulation of marks on a surface to create layers of space. Now Lord seeks to achieve an emotional layering in her reference to the relationships which existed in her grandparents' time, when the man made the choice to go out and pioneer in the wilderness, and asked a woman to accompany him into a harsh and difficult place. Lord's use of the 'gaze' to describe and explore this relation ship provides a further layer in its reinterpretation of the cultural assumptions of a past era.
Incongruous Layerings reinforces Lord's commitment to the deep and thorough investigation of the landscape to which she is connected. She is a very consistent artist, her work evolving in a steady progression of ideas and investigations, reinforced by the technical processes which complement and mirror her theoretical and philosophical concerns. The rather austere visual impact of the work is slowly undermined by the multiple and delicate layers of meaning and suggestion, an appropriate metaphor for the austere and manylayered landscape she depicts.