Elisabeth Cummings graduated from the National Art School in Sydney in the 1950s as part of a cohort of high achievers. Her generation witnessed the heyday of Abstract Expressionism: she was 22 years old when Jackson Pollock died. The energised handwriting and glorious sprawling webs we observe in so many of her canvases hints at the liberating influence that she, like so many of her contemporaries absorbed from Pollock and de Kooning, not to mention Olsen and Fairweather. However, while Cummings’ images seem steeped in the language of post-war abstraction, her work has rarely renounced its dependency on landscapes, interiors and (quite rarely) figures.
Her painting maintains a spirited dialogue with a rich and varied tradition, in particular with her revered forerunners Bonnard, Vuillard, Braque, Fairweather and Cossington-Smith. Yet perhaps the most crucial factor which lends the most distinctive character to her paintings is the spirit of the Australian bush: since 1970, Cummings has occupied a home and studio in an artists’ colony in Wedderburn, overlooking a steep, heavily wooded gully nearby the Georges River, south of Sydney. An avid and repeated visitor to remote areas of Australia, Cummings has been traversing the country since the 1980s. She has spent regular periods in the Flinders Ranges, visiting Arkaroola, the Gammon Ranges and their surroundings. Her painting excursions have encompassed Lake Mungo, The Kimberleys, Elcho Island (as an invited guest of the Indigenous community), Menindee, West MacDonnell Ranges, Fowlers Gap, the Monaro and Currumbin in Queensland.
This touring exhibition from Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra is curated by Sioux Garside founding Director of the Campbelltown Art Gallery and previously Senior Curator of the Sydney University Art Gallery.
Elisabeth CUMMINGS, Edge of the Simpson 2011, oil on canvas, 150.0 x 300.0cm, Liza and John Feeney collection. Courtesy the artist
Smart Space: Inside the studio drawing activity sheet
Watch the video Elisabeth Cummings, paints in the field at Fowlers Gap featured in Smart Space