Who: Claire Bridge
What: A Terrible Beauty
Where: Flinders Lane Gallery, 137 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000
When: Until 25 September 2010

I have been meaning to see this exhibition for ages. My office is so close to Flinders Lane Gallery that I often take it for granted that I can always pop in whenever. Of course I left it until the final week. And now that I’ve finally find some time to write about it, the show is over! Apologies for the lateness, dear readers.

Did You Feel The Earth Move? 2010
Oil on linen, 123 x 104cm
Courtesy of Flinders Lane Gallery

What drew my attention to this show, from a mere glimpse through the windows as I walked past the gallery, was the sheer scale, subject matter and heavy chiaroscuro of the paintings. These qualities give them an incredible presence in any space they occupy. Together with their dark, sinister, emotive backgrounds, they are reminiscent of baroque paintings crossed with the iconic works of Delacroix, Gericault and Rubens.

Rising Tides
oil on linen, 123 x 104cm
Courtesy of Flinders Lane Gallery

Curious about the subject matter I spent some time reading the artist’s statement that was stuck on the gallery wall. Claire explains that her works explore the connection between humanity and the natural world. She believes that our actions as individuals, or collectively, have an impact upon the environment in which we occupy. In her words, “Nature is echoing the consciousness of humanity. The planet breathes and sighs to the thoughts of humanity”.

The works shown above speak directly of concerns about climate change and global warming, rising oceans, floods, the impact of population migration and the increasing scarcity of fresh water, drought and earthquakes. They also embody the need for a feminine paradigm to arise, more prominently, in how we relate to each other and to the planet.

Leonardo’s Secret 2010
oil on linen, 167.5 x 134.5cm
Courtesy of Flinders Lane Gallery

The painting above, Leonardo’s Secret, is of an orchid in the manner of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and therefore symbolises the connection between human form and nature. The turbulent skies in the background draw attention to our relationship with the cosmos, and the drama and chaos of creation. I did not initially ‘see’ the Vitruvian Man, however its form felt incredibly familiar. I guess we all have a degree of affinity with the image of the Vitruvian Man.

To have and not to hold
oil on linen, 123 x 86cm
Courtesy of Flinders Lane Gallery

On the back wall of the gallery the piece To have and not to hold hung alongside two other paintings of similar subject matter. Although these paintings are different in subject matter to those described previously, there was the same sense of despair and impermanence weaving through all of the works. These three paintings explore ideas of truth, beauty, love and greed. They stand in stark contrast to the female figures trying to save the earth by depicting females coveting, consuming and possessing material goods. These women look distant and detached to the luxury goods that they possess. Seen together, these paintings tell us that the answer to saving our planet lies in our innate need for connection with something real, and that the desire to have possession over things will only distort our relationship with them and create conflict.

Claire’s paintings encourage much contemplation and raise many questions about our relationships with ourselves, our material possessions, our environment, the planet we live in, and its people. Claire is not sitting on her high horse and waving her finger at us in disappointment, accusing us of having lost a deeper connection with the earth and the things that really matter. Instead, she is simply reminding us that it’s not too late to reassess our situation and start making things count.


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