CANBERRA TIMES MAY 17 2005 page 17

INSPIRED, SEDUCTIVE VIBRANCY by Sasha Griffin, professor of Art History, Australian National University, Canberra

Rainbow Valley and Divertissements by Judy Cassab, at Solander Gallery, Yarralumla, until May 29.


If you did not know that Judy Cassab had been exhibiting for more than half a century, then you could be forgiven for thinking that because of the seductive vibrancy of the work, its energy, freshness and spontaneity of touch, you were dealing with the work of a much younger artist.

However, the mistake would only be momentary. If you examine more closely any of the 15 gouaches and 20 collages on show, you will notice a display of what one could term profound visual intelligence.

In Cassab's gouaches of the strange surreal landscapes in an eroded rock face we lose the sense of scale and the slice of nature becomes a microcosm of the universe. It is a source of life and the source of all mysteries with everything transfigured and immaculately painted.

She is an artist who no longer needs to make conscious decisions in her mark-making, but instead works intuitively and spontaneously. The imagery itself is stark, vivid and captivating, while the technique enhances the quality of precious crystalline precision.

Cassab trained in Budapest in the early 1940's and settled in Sydney in 1951.

In her early work in Australia she was an exponent of bold European figurative expressionism, but by the 1960's and 1970's she started to consolidate her own peculiar artistic language with its preoccupation with surfaces and textures, but always built around firmly structured compositions.

It was in the 1980's that she devised the wonderfully intricate surfaces to which the gouaches in the present exhibition belong, an evocation of what Elwyn Lynn once termed an "enigma of different substances and shapes".

The second major body of work in this exhibition is a series of collages called Divertissements. Judy Cassab describes these works as distractions, where she would take reproductions by Piero della Fracesca, Raphael, Michelangelo and other artists and then would paint with oils onto these reproductions, mainly nudes as complementary images.

I think that these are some of her most brilliant, freshest and most witty creations. What saves them from becoming trivial vignettes is precisely this sense of visual intelligence. She has the maturity as an artist to pay homage to some of her great forebears, and by adding her own visual commentary she enhances rather than trivialises their contribution.

Judy Cassab is one of the great living treasures of Australian art and remains an inspirational force at the age of 85.