Painted with many layers of oil on canvas to achieve an atmospheric glow and then sewn over and through with precisely sequenced geometries, this new body of work, In The Still Moments, continues to explore the immaterial through material means.
Shelly uses abstraction and geometry to symbolise the dichotomy of chaos and order, expansion and contraction, the physical and metaphysical, and within that, a perfection that is difficult to comprehend. During an experience of inner stillness it is possible to sense the harmony and connection that runs through all life. These works are explorations into our eternal nature and the greater intelligence that permeates everything.
Myopia is a refractive error of the eye…but what of the flash upon the inward eye?[i]
When you wear glasses for the first time, your visual behaviour goes through a series of double takes as you take the unfamiliar lenses on and off, on and off again in order to experience a dual reality. Contours blur and soften, then are crisp and defined. Wet colours flow and bleed, then dry to a hard geometric edge. This is the myopic optical experience of viewing Shelly Anfield’s latest body of work, In the Still Moments, her first solo show at Factory 49, Marrickville.
The exhibition consists of oil paintings on canvas, presented in series and mostly in a repeated square format. A series of smaller works line one wall, in which glowing horizontal bands of vibrant colour, closely tuned to, but not quite complementary opposites evoke the play, and spatial vibration, between near and far, not just of sightedness but also of perception. There it is – the familiar tug of the eye – modernist painting’s push and pull, the tension between flat plane and illusory window. Yet apart from this purely optical effect is another way of seeing, perceiving with the body and the inwardly turned eye.
Shelly cites Kandinsky, Rothko and the genesis of non-objective / abstract painting with its emphasis on spirituality as influences on her practice, and in these works there is an atmospheric glowing effect of inner light, suggestive of that inner contemplative space of spirituality. In addition to painterly influences, Shelly also mentions Steiner’s anthroposophy and Buddhism as philosophies that underlie her approach. So while an atmospheric glow might be an optical effect created by the application of layer upon layer of paint, perceptually it references another way of seeing, with an inward eye. This is reinforced by her titles, and the figure-ground paintings in the smaller room, all of which seem to reference natural forces shaping form into different states: genesis, ascension, bridge, implosion. Another two paintings on a side wall of are poured stains and spills of colour on a white ground.
In some of her paintings, set within and against these evocative colour-atmospheres are carefully embroidered geometries. Worked in metallic thread and located on the surface of the painting, they cling to and puncture the picture plane, depicting beautiful, mathematical certainties. The act of sewing into the paintings somehow disrupts a purely optical or formal reading of the work. Sewing, needlework, embroidery brings with it its associations of traditional female work and a certain every day domesticity. The process of the painter sewing brings these narratives, of history and bodily action into the completed works, so that they become as much a subject of the works.
Not all the paintings in this exhibition are sewn into, but in each work the duality between the material and the immaterial continues as a visual dialogue: whether you see vibrating bands of blended colour, a remembered scape of repeated vistas, the soothing rhythm of a daily mantra or the diagrammatic clarity of a polyhedron. The eyes move, outward and inward, back and forth.
Shelly Anfield lives on an island, surrounded by water and the bush and it is significant and not surprising that she nominates nature and spirituality as an essential component of these abstract paintings.
Lisa Sharp, February 2016. http://lisa-sharp.tumblr.com/
[i] The expression is taken from a line “They flash upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude” in William Wordsworth, I wandered, lonely as a cloud, 1807
Woven Light, 2016, oil and metallic thread on canvas, 61 x 61 cm