Press Room Details
PEOPLE get lost in the works of Fiona Cabassi. They talk of them ''resembling mini-cities full of buildings from Dr Seuss books'' or find them akin to ''microcosms of imagined worlds with their own spaces and ecologies''. On the wall of her Clifton Hill studio, Cabassi's most recent work, The Dotty Device, gives the impression of gazing into a rock pool: its vivid discs might be sea anemones, its brightly hued tentacles evoke tropical ocean dwellers or fronds of seaweed that stretch and waver as if caressed by invisible waves. It has an impermanence that suggests everything in sight will shift and drift with the next tide. That what you see is magically momentary.
The work began as a large-scale drawing, the sort Cabassi begins on a table beside a window overlooking Hurstbridge Line trains as they shuttle towards the city or back towards Eltham. She's worked in the same studio for 10 years, housed in a former textile factory, and its every surface is pasted with postcards, snatches of colour and works in various states of conception, construction and completion.
An impossibly fragile paper sculpture hangs on one wall, its patterns of cobwebs and enchanted forests evoking sorcery and folk tales. On another sits the image of a menacing steampunk machine made from car parts beside sketches of her next work, which as planned should occupy an entire room. She likes to ''create spaces people can walk into and immerse themselves in''. Installations that are part mad scientist, part flights of fancy.
National Works on Paper
Artist Fiona Cabassi's work which will be exhibited at Mornington Peninsula Gallery as part of the National Works on Paper Prize. Photo: Rodger Cummins
Many of her works begin as drawings that she later cuts out with a scalpel. Then she thinks of colours: wild, hallucinogenic rainbows; spare pairings of one of two shades; occasionally, white. Then, as in the case of The Dotty Device, she arranges them on different backgrounds: in this instance a transparent acetate dotted green to give the impression of a jellyfish.
''I like taking something flat and giving it a sculptural form, playing with different shapes to create depth and piecing it together,'' she says. Cabassi collects shapes and patterns as she sees them and doesn't distinguish between man-made or natural. Occasionally, she wanders her house or a familiar street and realises a creation has stolen the colour of a cardigan or the contours of a flower or car tyre. Other designs echo Japanese fabrics and pages torn from magazines.
This month, Cabassi's ''rock pool'' will be exhibited at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery as part of the 2012 National Works on Paper prize. Entries for the most prestigious award of its type in Australia span a diversity of disciplines - any work made on or with paper. It originated in the Spring Festival of Drawing, which dates from 1973, was renamed in 1998 and has since been held both biannually and annually. Past winners include Lisa Roet and Richard Lewer.
This year, 430 entries were received from across Australia, with 62 shortlisted artists vying for a prize of $45,000. For Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery director Jane Alexander, who is also one of the prize's judges, the exhibition spans an exciting breadth of practice and experience, from emerging and established to mid-career artists experimenting with novel and traditional approaches to collage, watercolour, oil, three-dimensional works, prints and drawing.
While past prizes have employed restrictions (entry was invitation-only in 2010) and themes (the same year focused on portraiture), this year has been, well, a free-for-all.
''It's hard to say there's any commonality with the themes [of the works],'' Alexander says. ''But it is fascinating to see how artists are working, what interests them, what kinds of works artists submit for a competition.
''There is a small group of Victorian artists who live in the inner city and focus on urban life, the cacophany of noise and chaos. And a group of indigenous artists [Gladdy Kemarre, Emily Pwerle, Galya Pwerle, Glen Namundja, Josie Kunoth Petyarre] who connect to their surrounds in a very different way.''
Many works appeal for their simplicity and the skill of their execution, she says, such as Jonathan Delafield Cook's charcoal drawing of an emu, memorable for its exquisite detail. Betty Greenhatch's Vintage China is a pencil on paper work that navigates Chinese cultural history through the depiction of a decorative plate reigned over by Mao Zedong. Eolo Paul Bottaro's Joyride City Jam depicts a clutch of people sitting on the banks of the Yarra River while an ominous shooting scene takes place behind them. Liz Shreeve's Whirl consists of a three-dimensional paper ball so ornate and detailed that one marvels at the patience and skill required to create it.
Stephanie Turner's Family Tree is a collage of photographs depicting ''how one imagines most family trees truly are'', Alexander says. ''Bits of this person appear on one branch, bits of that person on another. Some are heads, some are legs.'' Personal recollections also underpin Glenn Morgan's Borthwicks Cattle Truck, which depicts the artist's time working in a slaughterhouse.
''He's reflecting on a period in his life that he found quite disturbing, taking the animals to the slaughterhouse and wondering how they felt,'' Alexander says. He has expressed this wondering by giving the animals he depicts speech bubbles. ''Some say 'Help me' ... which reminds people about the other side of getting your meat on a little polystyrene tray from the supermarket.''
Alexander delights in the idea that some works may ''lead people to question the sanity of the judges'' who selected them. ''But it's fun to stimulate debate. Otherwise, people come in and say, 'Well, nice exhibition, nice animal'. And that's a bit boring.''
2012 National Works on Paper, Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, August 23 - October 7.