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The construction of meaning and of critical frameworks 'from within', from a local base, is part of artistic debate which is especially pertinent to regional art practice. A retrospective exhibition of thirty years of work by Anneke Silver, largely executed in North Queensland, (now an artistically and intellectually thriving region but fairly isolated when the artist first arrived in 1961), opens a window on this debate. Anneke Silver was trained in Holland, (Bauhaus curriculum in the art school and CoBrA expressionism in the galleries) but chose to develop her artistic vision through the natural world of the dry tropics around Townsville.
The exhibition includes approximately seventy works from the nine hundred or more identified works the artist had executed in this time. Over her career Silver has engaged with a number of styles, moving from intensely luminous colourfield paintings, to concentrated studies of the bush in carefully structured local colour, devoid of the chromacity of earlier work. Colour slowly emerged again as she developed her icons in the middle eighties, with elements from both the landscape and mythological sources. As an artist, I found this exhibition both exciting and challenging. I have often felt frustration at the way some observers gain a feeling of security by expecting a specific type of work to be continually produced by one artist. Anneke Silver's exhibition challenges this notion. In the late '60s Silver began to produce paintings and drawings which depicted the world as if it were a living organism or a body with its own organic laws and structural relationships. Many of the early works make a visual comparison between the earth and the human form. Often a mechanical grid is placed over this holistic view to show the radical changes which human intervention has wrought on our immediate environment.
The contemplation of the earth as something precious has caused Silver to investigate the expressive potential of ancient images, especially those of cultures whose mythologies also revolve around the notion of the land as sacred. With the advent of the Bush Icon series (c. 1984) Silver's strong reverence for the bush (the personality of the landscape) began to be articulated through early spiritual imagery of Western art, which linked these works to her own cultural past. The observation of her natural environment through an imposed structural device such as the icon and later the image of the earth goddess, has resulted in a diversity of solutions to her ongoing concern with the earth.
In the Rain Paintings (1983) minute incidents and changes in the physical structure of the landscape near the artist's home have been recorded and overprinted, sometimes lost and later rediscovered in other subtle relationships. This has resulted in an intense record of a scrutinizing gaze. These paintings have been carefully measured and observed and their mastery lies in the 'accurate' relationship of their subtle variations of formal elements to the natural changes which take place in the bush during a period of observation.
These complex works led on to a more synthetic approach where the landscapes became more minimal and relied on minute markings of twigs or the incidental script on bark, to interrogate the rhythmic relationships between traces of form in a sparsely wooded environment. Many of these landscapes resemble a piece of parchment covered with a secret or lost script.
The culmination of the notion of the land as a living entity came with the addition of the representation of the Goddess. In the series The Goddess Obscured, Silver investigates the gradual and simultaneous reduction in stature of the natural environment and the feminine affect in Western culture. By using physical veils (silk, paint, earth and bitumen) in these large painted collages the artist shows stages of the gradual concealment of the earth/goddess sensibility. I find this series both beautiful and sorrowful in their sense of reconciliation and healing of this area of earth.
The exhibition is presented so as to encourage chronological reading, whilst some discreet spaces allow works to interact across periods. The recent publication, Images of the Goddess and Nature Mysticism, by Jane Magon with a foreword by Ross Searle (Craftsman House and the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, 1995) accompanies this exhibition. In addition to an informative essay, the book provides a visual record of a professional and emphatically regionally based practice. A preparatory catalogue of complete works has also been produced. Such a comprehensive retrospective indicates the importance of the Perc Tucker Regional Gallery's role in developing critical and referential frameworks from within the region.