For nearly 50 years, Queensland artist Madonna Staunton has been creating a significant and personal body of work in both paint and collage. We explore her works, which are the subject of the exhibition ‘Madonna Staunton:Out of a Clear Blue Sky’, currently in the Glencore Queensland Artists’ Gallery at QAG.
Madonna Staunton is well recognised for her significant contribution to Australian modernism over the last five decades, and has long been appreciated as one of Queenland’s favourite artists. Her confidently arranged collage and assemblage works exude a meditative lyricism that is prized by private collectors and admired by audiences. In recent years, however, Staunton has committed more and more of her time to figurative painting — the discipline that provided the origin of her art practice. The time has now come to contextualise this latest achievement in the exhibition ‘Madonna Staunton: Out of a Clear Blue Sky’.
Beginning with her earliest colour field abstracts of the 1960s, ‘Out of a Clear Blue Sky’ examines Staunton’s whole career for preludes and connections to this return to painting. Indeed, the exhibition comes to suggest that the artist has always taken on the concerns and interests of a painter, albeit one that has often worked with unconventional materials.
From school age, Staunton’s mother offered her a comparatively advanced introduction to the qualities of colour, tone and their capacity for drawing an emotional response. This attention, and her strong aptitude, meant that by the time Staunton attended classes at Brisbane’s Central Technical College in 1964, her understanding of colour and form arguably rivalled those of accomplished professionals. Famously, by the late 1960s, the artist directed her attention to collage due to ill health. Collage accommodated her particular skills perfectly and great success followed. But with her Armature series from 1999 the artist signalled her concerted return to painting, and her works began to demonstrate the kind of philosophical, psychological and emotional concerns that would occupy her thereafter.
New acquisitions that feature prominently in the exhibition include Anxiety 2012, a painting from which a sole figure depicted is nearly ejected from the picture plane, tumbling out of this synthetic space, preoccupied and faltering. The figure’s hands seem to repel each other like magnets of matching polarity, signifying a body and mind in all-consuming turmoil. Intelligently, the cityscape that surrounds them is articulated in a condensed geometric arrangement — a post cubist strategy linked to her tonal collage, but coded with emotional sensitivity provoked by the wrestling of humanist ideals and hostile circumstance. Brilliant, piercing blue eyes strike out from a sophisticated layering of complimentary tones — pink, yellow, mauve and more blue — all worked over each other with a delicate brush action.
Sunflowers 2013, another recent acquisition, is remarkable for its economy of form. Again post-cubist, but with a nod to Van Gogh, Staunton has constructed a deceptively simple composition full of the pulse of nature, tempered by a mindfulness of the inevitable decay of all life. Its ambiance again reveals her immense capacity for colour and form in painting, and indicates an abundance of melancholy insights present in its making and in the artist.
‘Madonna Staunton: Out of a Clear Blue Sky’ demonstrates Staunton’s capacity to change and adapt, reintroduce and renew. Expressed with talents amassed over a career spanning nearly 50 years, these recent representational works are weighted with the kind of insights that come with age and deep reflection. This is Staunton’s first exhibition at the Gallery since 1994, and her first major exhibition since 2003. It is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated publication, which offers the most comprehensive representation yet of Madonna Staunton’s career and is available for purchase from the QAGOMA Store and online.