How many female artists can you name? How many of those are Australian?
Less than a quarter of the artists represented in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection in Canberra are female. Approximately a third of the artists in the NGA’s Indigenous collection are female. This is in spite of women significantly outnumbering men in art at the tertiary level. Worse, only two percent of the global art market is represented by women.
This thought provoking article says ‘...artists who are not white men come with qualifiers, whether it's "woman artist", "black artist", or "disabled artist".
Art historian Griselda Pollock says ‘In that qualifying, I have disqualified them from automatically being part of this neutral category: artist.’
The NGA’s initiative, Know My Name seeks to address this shortcoming with exhibitions featuring artists who are female.
Ironically the first two exhibitions in the series to expand the category of artist in the Australian imagination were held during the pandemic so hardly anyone got to see the works and learn a more complete picture of the story of art in this country. Unfortunately I don’t think there are any plans to tour these exhibitions which is a travesty. It should be required viewing for all high school students.
Cressida Campbell has been an artist for forty years and this year marks the 40th anniversary of the NGA. Campbell attended the opening of the gallery forty years ago and she is still painting. It’s the first time the gallery had featured a living, female Australian artist in its summer blockbuster exhibition.
Campbell sketches drawings on plywood which she then paints with watercolours. When the paint is dry, she uses an electrical tool to carve the wood. This woodblock is then misted with water from a spray bottle and a piece of paper is laid on top. A roller then presses the paint into the paper. This process is repeated until Campbell is happy with the result. Once the paper is removed she touches up both the block and it’s print. Only a single print is made from the block and both the print and the block are sold for around $500,000 each.
Even though she is a commercially successful artist championed by Margaret Olley who bought her paintings and donated them to galleries, most of the works in the exhibition came from private collections.
Seeing her woodblocks side by side with their reverse prints was wonderful. There was also a display case filled with paint brushes, rollers, empty paint tubes and the brace she wears to support her wrist.
Campbell’s work focuses on details of intimate interiors as well as landscapes and botanical illustrations. My favourites were the tondo painting - the round prints with thin white frames.
The exhibition featured a video of Campbell talking about her work as well as images of her meticulous process. She talks on the phone or listens to music when she’s painting but when it’s time to make the print she closes all the windows and turns off the phone and radio so she can have complete silence and focus on the process.
I didn’t think I was going to have a chance to see this exhibition but I managed to squeeze it in before my flight home. I’m so glad I managed to see it.