Suzanne Archer was born in Surrey, UK and studied at the Sutton School of Art (1964). She arrived in Australia in 1965 and is based in the Wedderburn region of New South Wales. Archer has exhibited regularly since the late 1960s and is a recipient of the Wynne Prize (1994), the Dobell Prize (2010), the Kedumba Drawing Prize (2010) and the Eutick Memorial Still Life Award (2018). She has undertaken residencies at Greene Street Studio, New York; Power Studio at Cite Internationale, Paris and Redgate Residency, Beijing. Career surveys have been held at the Macquarie University Art Museum, Sydney (2016) and Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown (2019) . Archer’s work is held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Artbank as well as significant regional and tertiary institutions.
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SONG OF THE CICADA
Author: Sioux Garside,
Designer: Alyson Bell Design,
Foreword: Nicholas Thompson
Published by Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne, 2019
188 pages, Hardcover
SELLING PRICE $59.95
POSTAGE WITIN AUSTRALIA $18
SONG OF THE CICADA: EXHIBITION AND BOOK LAUNCH
SYDNEY CONTEMPORARY 12 TO 15 SEPTEMBER 2019
SUZANNE ARCHER’S EXHIBITION with Nicholas Thompson Gallery at Sydney Contemporary this year marks the 50th anniversary of her first ever commercial exhibition at Clune Gallery in Potts Point, Sydney, in 1969. Archer had originally arrived in Australia in 1965 as a 19-year-old, after studying at the Sutton and Cheam School of Art in England. Almost immediately, she won the Shoalhaven Drawing Prize in 1966, the Woollahra Art Prize in 1967 and rather poignantly, as listed in her CV (for who even remembers there was such a thing?), the Easter Show Competition (Modern Painting Section) in 1968.
1969 was the year Archer received her first serious critical attention with her work included in Mervyn Horton’s important Present-Day Painting in Australia, published that year. The book is a listing of some 114 then-contemporary Australian painters in alphabetical order, with each getting a one-page artist statement and the reproduction of a single work. Archer is in fact the first artist included in the book – immediately preceding David Aspden, Yvonne Audette and Sydney Ball – and the work of hers reproduced is the acrylic and paper collage Country of Ripples 2 (1969). The piece looks as much as anything like a Rosalie Gascoigne, with its cut-up pages of advertisements from newspapers divided into overlapping planes by the occasional stroke of black paint. Archer in her statement speaks of “the painting developing through itself; I make decisions. It is a process of elimination and addition, constructed of the definitive and the ephemeral”.
But one of the things that makes Archer such a strong painter, at least for me, is that the real strategy of her work is more like endless addition, leading to a kind of supersaturation when it appears it must simply burst apart with all of the content, all of the colours and all of the mark-making stuffed into it. It is certainly this that drives the progression of her style, at least up until the late period paintings of skulls and skeletons she began sometime around 2103 when, after a period drawing in the dissecting room of the Veterinary Science Department at the University of Sydney, she broke her pelvis and became aware of the fragility of the human body.
Until this stripping down to final things, however, what characterises Archer’s work by contrast is an extraordinary painterly density. Take, for example, such works on exhibit here as Blaze (1990), Big Bad Banksia Men (1993) and Ferns (1994). They are certainly responses to the subtropical bush where she lives in Weddesrburn on the south-west fringes of Sydney, with its moist undergrowth, thick shadows and rich black soil. But with their successive layers of blue, pink and violet, their swirling skeins of white, one on top of the other until the background is completely covered, it is as though Archer is trying to fill her work with all of the world, to produce a life within the painting that would match that which she sees during her daily walks through the forest.
Of course, it’s possible to compare her work to another Australian artist of approximately her generation, Elisabeth Cummings, and more distantly to that of her husband, David Fairburn. Other reviewers have even on occasion compared it to that of Ian Fairweather, and if we wanted an international reference we might even point to the Canadian post-war Tachist Jean-Paul Riopelle. But to me, the truly productive comparison with Archer – to take us back to Horton’s book – would be to Gareth Sansom. Sansom was another of the younger generation of artists selected by Horton, and he is represented by the painting Dog Fight (1966), a scrappy, half-drawn, half-painted image of two First World War airplanes duelling in the air. However, Sansom, like Archer, seeks to put the most incongruous elements together in his paintings (perhaps even more so), overburdening them to point of collapse. Both painters kick against the idea of stylistic unity, daring us to find their work simply incoherent. But try as they can, they fail to make it so. They are simply too good at what they do.
Rex Butler, This article was originally published in Sydney Contemporary Special Issue Art Collector, 2019.
‘Future’ at Sydney Contemporary is a platform for young galleries, and Nicholas Thompson Gallery is well-qualified, established only four years ago. This emerging Melbourne space is presenting the work of the established Wedderburn-based Suzanne Archer, who this year marks 50 years since her debut solo exhibition. Following on from a recent retrospective of Archer’s work at Campbelltown Arts Centre, viewers at Sydney Contemporary can sample paintings, works on paper and sculpture from the mid-1980s onwards. Archer interweaves the forms, textures and impressions of landscape into imposing compositions that regularly push two-by-three metres, employing a rich earthy palette punctuated with flower-bright moments. Figurative and abstract elements cohabit or are compartmentalised in Archer’s works, rendered in layers of vigorous, drippy and linear brushwork. During the fair, Nicholas Thompson Gallery will also launch the artist’s career monograph Suzanne Archer: Song of the Cicada.
Chloe Wolifson 'Notes from the Field' in AMA 318 September 2019
THE WHISPERING OF LEAVES
EXHIBITION CURRENT 5 TO 23 SEPTEMBER 2018
Over the last three years I have been ‘looking back’ over my 50-year body of work, initially prompted by two exhibitions Suzanne Archer: The Alchemy of the Studio at Macquarie University Art Gallery in 2016 followed by Moving Forwards, Looking Back at Nicholas Thompson Gallery in 2016/17 and in preparation for a book about my work due for release in 2019.
I work thematically, and at the end of my recent subject of China I was ready to move on. This retrospective view of my own work ironically inspired me to revisit the landscape of Wedderburn NSW, the theme that I had focused on when I moved to the area in 1987 and which I had continued working on into the early 1990’s.
This landscape is made up of rugged bushland with scraggly gum trees with their gnarled and grid-forming branches and deep gorges with rock pools. We are visited by king parrots, rock wallabies and koalas. The sounds are of cicadas, bird calls and ‘the whispering of leaves’.
Suzanne Archer 2018
MOVING FORWARDS, LOOKING BACK A SURVEY 1969 - 2016
17 TO 23 DECEMBER 2016 / 14 TO 29 JANUARY 2017
LINK TO 'ARTIST PROFILE' EXHIBITION PREVIEW HERE
LINK TO 'ART GUIDE AUSTRALIA' EXHIBITION PREVIEW HERE
LINK TO REX BUTLER 'MEMO' EXHIBITION REVIEW HERE
LINK TO SALLY BAILLIEU & NICHOLAS THOMPSON EXHIBITION DISCUSSION ON RPP FM'S 'ARTS ABOUT' HERE
SUZANNE ARCHER: THE DEFINITE AND EPHEMERAL
“It is a process of elimination and addition, constructed of the definite and ephemeral” wrote a twenty-four year old Suzanne Archer in Mervyn Horton’s seminal 1969 survey Present Day Art in Australia. (1) ‘Definite and ephemeral’ is arguably one of the most suitable descriptions of Archer’s near fifty year practice. From her collage works of the 1960s and 1970s to her imposing landscapes of the 1980s and 1990s to the meditations on mortality of the 2000s and 2010s – a handwriting of abstracted line has formed the ephemeral connective tissue that supports the definite assembled forms of letters, numbers, flora, fauna and figure.
This exhibition ‘Moving Forwards, Looking Back’ is a small survey of the last forty-five years of Archer’s career, specifically her two dimensional work, predominately her painting. In a 2002 Art and Australia article on the painters of the Wedderburn, Sydney region, Peter Pinson observed that ‘Paul Klee spoke of taking a line for a walk, Archer takes a line on a reckless, intoxicated spree’. (2) Archer’s ephemeral, abstracted line similarly links the works in this exhibition. Its genesis can be seen in the small black painted curve in the top right of the smallest and earliest work Win a trip (1969) and threads and expands through the subsequent works of 1970s and 1980s, reaching its abstracted zenith in the landscape works of the 1990s before receding as Archer’s concerns of the 2000s and 2010s became increasingly figurative. The abstracted line nevertheless endures in these later meditations, revealing an ephemeral support and process driven scaffolding containing the definite representations of mortality and identity. The idea of the perpetual motion of the line is similarly important, the most recent work Bluesu (2016) is less than a year old. Archer’s practice remains continual, constant and compelling.
In an assessment of modernist abstract painting, Rosalind Krauss argued that the most successful works operate ‘through a structure of oppositions: line as opposed to colour, contour as opposed to field, matter as opposed to the incorporeal’. (3) What emerges is the ‘provisional unity of the identity of opposites. Line becomes colour, contour becomes field, matter becomes light’. Pollock described this result as ‘memories arrested in space’, especially prevalent in the binary opposition of figure/non figure, as image is absorbed into structure. (4) I would argue that comparable relationships reveal themselves in the tensions and harmonies of the ‘definite and ephemeral’ oppositions of Archer’s practice, where letters, marks and skeletons sit in dense, painterly and ambiguous territories.
As part of the 1982 Festival of Sydney, celebrated Australian author Patrick White selected twenty works from the Art Gallery of New South Wales for an exhibition titled Patrick White’s Choice. Included in the selection was Suzanne Archer’s Kites (1978). White commented that Archer’s works are ‘not inaccessible to those prepared to merge with them’. (5) I hope this small survey of Suzanne Archer’s work will provide much for the viewer to merge with, much as her definite figures merge into their ephemeral webs.
1 Horton, M ed. Present Day Art in Australia, Ure Smith, North Sydney, 1969, p.14
2 Pinson, P. ‘Common ground: Four Wedderburn Painters’ in Art and Australia Vol 40 No 2 Summer 2002, p.275
3 Krauss, R. ‘Reading Jackson Pollock, Abstractly’ in The Originality of the Avant Garde and other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 1985, p.239
5 Verity Hewitt, H. ‘Patrick White’s choice’ in Art and Australia Vol 36 No 2 Summer 1998, p.2469
BENEATH THE SKIN
26 SEPTEMBER - 18 OCTOBER 2015
For years I have collected photographs of the Mexican Day of the Dead and of Mummies such as those of Guanajuato and over the years I have filled my studio with cabinets of animal skulls and dehydrated specimens collected when walking in the bush or given to me by friends.
From 2003-2005 I drew at the Veterinary Science Laboratory at the University of Sydney during the students’ horse dissection sessions which resulted in several exhibitions. Not surprisingly I then turned eventually to the human skeleton as subject, purchasing a replica of a human skeleton that became my model in my studio resplendent in a hat I added to lighten the mood! This compliant model was strung-up in complex poses providing endless subject matter!
I am interested in exploring disturbing images that are inspired by a dark, uneasy psychological undercurrent and black humour such as the painting Two Skeletons Messing with my Head where two skeletons play with my own decapitated head.
During this time I rediscovered James Ensor’s Skeletons Fighting Over a Pickled Herring (1891) which provided a historical context for this body of work.
My art practice embraces drawing, painting, sculpture and installation often with them all being utilized in my work concurrently.
Suzanne Archer 2015
SUZANNE ARCHER FINALIST IN 2020 CALLEEN ART AWARD AT COWRA REGIONAL ART GALLERY
Image: Suzanne Archer ‘Glyph’ 2020 oil on canvas 90 x 122 cm Suzanne Archer is a finalist in the 2020 Calleen Art Award at Cowra Regional Art Gallery, exhibited from 4 October to 15 November 2020 . The Calleen Art Award is an acquisitive art prize that encourages originality and artistic merit, established in 1977…
SUZANNE ARCHER FINALIST IN THE ‘2020 NATIONAL WORKS ON PAPER’ AT MORNINGTON PENINSULA REGIONAL GALLERY, CURRENT 5 DEC 2020 TO 21 FEB 2021
Suzanne Archer ‘Messenger Masks’ 2018 paper, ink, charcoal, chalk pastel, graphite, acrylic paint, metal stands 90 x 150 x 50cm The Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery’s National Works on Paper was established in 1998 and incorporated the former Spring Festival of Drawing and the Prints Acquisitive which began in 1973. MPRG will hold the prestigious 2020 National Works…
SUZANNE ARCHER ‘FEELING THE BOY’ 1987 IN ‘THE DAILY EXAMINER’: ARTEFACTS
ARTEFACTS: Exploration of childhood Feeling the Boy, 1987 (Suzanne Archer) Niomi Sands Collection Highlight Suzanne ARCHER Feeling the boy 1987 mixed media on paper 67 x 101cm Winner of the 1987 Jacaranda Art Prize Jacaranda Art Society Collection Feeling the boy is the winner of the Jacaranda Art Prize held in 1987. Well-known Australian artist…