Susan Wald - The Gathering

Wednesday 20 March - Sunday 14 April 2024


Click here for artwork by Susan Wald 

Susan Wald’s luminous canvases, with their distinctive foreground assemblies, invite storying. In each scene, the assemblies become animated; the players take on disposition and purpose. They herd together, their eyes on the interloper; they gain safety in numbers.

Sometimes, humanoid, they converse -- convivial guests around a dining table. Other times, they form a conga line, dancing along an infinity loop across canvases. The images lure us to find a narrative, despite their subject matter. For the models of these players are bleached skulls of animals, vestiges salvaged from beaches, roadsides and deserts – goats, a sheep, kangaroos and wallaroos, a fox, a dog. For one, there’s a weathered fragment of spine; for the rest, no clues, no shards of former lives. The little heads suggest powerlessness, counter to their likely past lives. The goats’ horns suggest authority. This is haunting. Globally, we are witnesses to the menace of such hubris and horn-locks.

It’s a mark of brilliance that the artist can paint such scenes of vitality and sociability from the configuration of skulls. She conjures life in its absence: the eyes of these players sparkle, they engage with each other and with us. They settle in landscapes of vivid and shimmering hue – apricot, mango, coral, musk, magenta – colours of the rising and setting of the sun – and opalescent aqua, the colour of the morning sky once the sun is up. Yet these colours are not of the sky but of earth; rich shadows ground these gatherings.

Wald has often depicted broody, mournful and desolate works. Consider her paintings of abattoirs and crows, and the majestic barrenness of a sandy landscape, and how these all reference grim histories, orthodox violence, and suffering. In an oevre of decades, her oil paintings and works on paper capture the beauty in the abject, as much as they speak of neglect, denial and long tails of sadness. With brilliant brush work, precise representation, and an unexpected thoughtful palette, in all these paintings, she configures narratives of human culpability and resilience.

And now, from the trace of death, she paints the living back, subverting what we might call still life. For with their animation, the skulls still live; vibrant and spirited, they populate our imagination. These paintings are an invitation to dream of a world that is otherwise, and to find inspiration in doing so.

Catalogue essay by Lenore Manderson AM