Abstraction Celebrating Australian women abstract artists, NGA & Tour

Abstraction is one of the most influential developments in art history. Evolving from avant-garde movements in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century, it has continued to flourish through to contemporary times. Women artists have been at the forefront of its development and yet, until recently, their contribution has been obscured from the art-historical narrative. This exhibition resurrects and examines the myriad of ways that Australian women artists have championed abstraction and kept it alive in the twenty-first century.

Travelling venues and dates

  • Geelong Art Gallery, Geelong Vic
    20 February – 7 May 2017
  • Newcastle Art Gallery, Newcastle NSW
    21 May – 23 July 2017
  • Cairns Art Gallery, Cairns QLD
    15 September – 24 November 2017
  • Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah NSW
    2 March – 27 May 2018
  • QUT Art Gallery, Brisbane QLD
    1 June – 26 August 2018

Bucharest, Romania born 1955
Australia from 1980
Ithaca II
Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas
Primary Insc: not signed, not dated, verso, u/l, blue felt tip marker, “Aida Tomescu/ ‘ITHACA II’ – 1999/ oil on canvas”
Dimensions: stretched 1835 h x 1530 w x 45 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2000
Accession No: NGA 2000.16


Ithaca II has its origins in the religious imagery of Moldavian frescos in northern Romania. I revisited these churches in 1977 – a visit prompted mainly by the SBS film on the poet Paul Celan, partly shot in north Moldavia.

Ithaca II was the first, and paradoxically also the last, of the 1999 series of seven paintings (as I scraped off and repainted the whole upper section of the canvas, after completing the rest of the series). My main concern throughout was to find a reality which I could not deny or make unreal, an image with its own sense of coherence.

I kept returning to Celan as a way of discouraging aesthetics. I needed to break through the surface illusion of paint and find an opening into the work. Painting has always been a gradual construction of something that exists independently of me, but with this series it felt more as a slow progression towards a state of stillness.

Despite the built-up surface of Ithaca II, texture is never a concern as I find that it is inherent to painting. The more fluid lower section of the canvas went through massive repainting and some of Celan’s verses from Crowned Out are buried within the image. It is more like painting something that you are not aware of seeing, but that you feel is there.

A sensation of watery green-greyness emerged, images came and went and a more subtle, unexpected presence surfaced in the work, a substance floating somewhere in this indeterminate space – independent of and quite outside the imagery I’ve been working with – a curious extra intention that I’m not responsible for, an intention by the painting itself.

Aida Tomescu, 2002


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002


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