Pink Heat

Renee Cosgrave
Mikala Dwyer
Madeline Simm

07.07.2023 - 05.08.2023

Pink Heat reveals how abstract painting can hold and emanate joy, memory and connection through the work of three artists of different generations. The exhibition places early nail polish monochromes by Mikala Dwyer in dialogue with more recent painterly abstractions by Renee Cosgrave and Madeline Simm. Curated by Emma Nixon.

Mikala Dwyer appears courtesy 1301SW

Taking its title from one of Mikala Dwyer’s nail polish monochromes of the 1990’s, Pink Heat is an exhibition which explores colour as a way of being in and understanding the world. Paintings by three artists of different generations comes together here to reveal the ways abstraction can hold and emanate joy, memory, and connection.

First shown in Woops, Dwyer’s solo show in 1994 at Sarah Cottier Gallery in Sydney, the nail polish paintings were scattered on the walls within a sprawling presentation reminiscent of a backstage costume department or a fantastical teenage girls’ bedroom. Stretched out panty-hoes, sequined sculptures, a television set and a nail polish station sat amongst brightly coloured fabric hanging as a glittery backdrop against the wall.

Wanting to inject the feminine into the male-dominated history of abstraction and the monochrome, Dwyer engaged nail polish as her medium – still of course an irreverent variation of enamel paint. Embracing this radical approach to art, through the feminist lens, Dwyer allows painterly swells of colour to form. Intimate in size, the paintings take their titles from the commercial nail polish shades that coat them, such as Red Glitter, Empire of Fire or Chocolate. Some of the canvases are adorned with painterly brushstrokes, though they are tiny and fit for a finger. In others it’s clear that the viscous liquid has been poured, glistening hues allowed to drip and roll over the canvas as they please, pooling more thickly in some areas and throwing away the precision needed for an actual mani or pedi.

The playful nature of dressing up is relevant to the work of Madeline Simm – who is hugely interested in storytelling, cosmetic products, fashion and flowers, and whose work always captures a mood or feeling. Wanting the poetry of life to be expressed through colour and pigment on a canvas, her movements and moments in the world, the glimmers and rhythms of being alive become strokes of her paint brush.

In her new artist’s book Click, Blink, Floral, Fade Simm’s poetry reveals her state of mind:

When was the Anthropocene said to begin? She couldn’t remember. A purple arch came to mind. This is a world she made up and can live in.

This way of not only understanding the world – but building a world through colour and form speaks to Simm’s exuberance and her surges of inventiveness. Her new 2023 series which includes Winte Hits, Summer Hits and Café Blah Blah follows the interplay of circles stencilled from the circumference of a plate given to her by her Nana, and stripes that correlate to the diameter of the plate. The energy that travels between her shapes pulsates, feeling almost kinetic. Constantly inspired by the abstract painters that have come before her, Simm’s studio overflows with books on Mary Heilmann, Elizabeth Newman, Etel Adnan, Angela Brennan and the like. This return and familiarity to their practices is a way of self-identifying and being connected to a lineage larger than herself.

Renee Cosgrave’s colours and memories are often intertwined – Nana’s Garden, Summer Painting, and New Zealand Palette, are all works evocative of places, homes, or seasons. Her paintings replicate the vibrant colours seen in these sites and renders them through organic forms. Cosgrave’s shapes often hint at a gridded geometry, though her squares, rectangles and lines are always soft, allowing the shape to be imperfect, to bleed slightly into the next. Others are more gestural like Using leftover paint, the hurried brushstrokes revealing the last remnants of colour on the paintbrush. Action flows out of her paintings, and when brought together en masse there is a crescendo of movement. Expressive painterly markings dance across the canvases and boards of various sizes.

Cosgrave’s invigorating use of colour is often startling, like the shock of red which sits amongst a sea of blue in Taupō nui-a-tia me Turangi. Taupō is where Cosgrave is from in Aotearoa/NZ, her hapū (subtribe) is in Turangi on the other side of the lake. Cosgrave’s lines in both works titled Raranga
, follow the repetition of a single brushstroke, and take on a layered effect as the colours mingle and wash over one another. Considering the rhythm, tension and collective action of raranga (Māori weaving), the brightly coloured lines are informed by whenu (weaving strips).

Dwyer, Cosgrave and Simm are all immensely productive and driven by the momentum of their work, with large series made each year. With a constant return to the canvas, their paintings resolutely stake their claim as female abstract artists. While abstraction needs no wider meaning – its’ investigation of form, colour and beauty enough – these intergenerational artists show us ways in which abstract art can hold within it emotional swells embodying connection to culture, feminist social politics, family or simply a memory of colours seen in your favourite artists’ book. Pink Heat shows us that this feeling of abstraction as self-identification remains relevant today. Finding colour in the world and rendering it as form and sensibility is life-giving, and that is the energy that radiates from these 32 paintings.

Emma Nixon, 2023

Renee Cosgrave (b. 1986) is a Narrm/Melbourne based artist living on sacred Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Country. She is from Aotearoa/New Zealand of Irish, Māori and Scottish descent from the Ngāti Tūwharetoa iwi. Her practice explores abstract painting, colour, repetition, whenua/land, culture and wairua/spirit. Through her artworks she investigates raranga (Māori weaving) and its methodologies. These methodologies often echo the same rhythm and harmony in her paintings, as she continues to reflect on and partake in the raranga form of her ancestors.

Renee was the recipient of the 2019 MECCA M-Power NGV Arts Mentorship. She exhibits regularly in both Australia and Aotearoa.

Ko Tongariro te maunga
Ko Taupō te moana
Ko Te Arawa te waka
Ko Te Heuheu te tangata
Ko Tūwharetoa te iwi

Mikala Dwyer (b. 1959) lives and works in Narrm/Melbourne and is one of Australia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. Her practice encompasses many forms, such as sculpture, performance, and installation. She creates personal spaces within the conventions of a gallery that unpack concepts including barriers, shelter, ritual, modernist design, personal biography, and the occult. Her artworks play on the malleable and lively nature of the materials she engages with. Utilising plastic, fabric, Perspex, clay, wood, plants, and sound, she is attuned to the ever-changing relationship between object and viewer and does not restrain her playful bodies of work as a way to explore various notions of metamorphosis.

Dwyer’s works have been collected by a number of public collections, including: the National Gallery ofAustralia, Can­ber­ra; Art Gallery of N­SW, Syd­ney; MCA, Syd­ney; National Gallery of Victoria, Mel­bourne; Monash Uni­ver­si­ty Muse­um of Art.

Recent solo exhibitions have taken place in a number of key institutions, including: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney (2017); University of Sydney Art Gallery, Sydney (2014); Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2013).

Madeline Simm (b. 1994) is a Narrm/Melbourne based artists who graduated from the Painting Department of the Victoria College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2018. Her painting practice investigates compositional play, materiality, and colour, borrowing from cosmetic packaging, textiles, consumerism, femininity, and art history. Interconnecting her inner thoughts with the flow of her paint, Simm creates narratives and opportunities within abstract painting. In such paintings is the combination of sentimental and personal narratives, whilst referencing painting’s complex history.

Recent solo and group exhibitions have taken place at CHAUFFEUR in Sydney and at Conners Conners, Savage Garden, Branching Universe, and Sarah Scout Presents in Melbourne. Simm recently released a limited-edition artist monograph Click, blink, floral, fade at the NGV Art Book Fair published by Stray Pages.

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