Wilma Tabacco

Melbourne, Australia

Two main lines of inquiry form the foundations of my work. The first relates to color perception and the visual paradoxes that can be generated through color relativity (these are my striped works); the second relates to the spatially disorientating effects achievable using abstract geometric shapes arranged on a flat field (these are what I refer to as my “architectural work”). These formal considerations are, of course, subordinate to a much more difficult and larger task.

Difference or the manifestation of the idea of difference is my critical motivating factor, and this has been paramount in the evolution of my work over many years. It is within the heraldic context of a “differ”—that is, a figure on a coat of arms that distinguishes one family from another or discriminates a younger branch from an elder one—that my work should be considered.

Striped iconography has historically been used (in textiles at least) to mark transgressors and the exotic: the hangman, prostitutes, clowns, wandering minstrels and African natives. I have utilized the stripe because it can be easily repeated, multiplied to form a continuous colored field where figure and ground are interchangeable, where color that is not on the canvas can nevertheless be perceived through optical mixing in the viewer’s eye and to create almost hallucinatory effects—but also because of its significance in the demarcation of “difference.”

I also have a particular interest in archaeological remains. Reading about ruined and lost cities and civilizations destroyed through war, natural disasters or the passing of time is one of my pastimes. This may be because I was born in Italy, and almost all of Italy is, by government decree, an archaeological zone, and that I was born during an earthquake. Regardless, color and form should be considered within this cultural context.

My paintings appear austere and stark; however, excessive and baroque exuberance is masked through effective surface “disguises.”  Smooth, satin finish oil paint surfaces or reflective, metallic golden sheens obliterate much of the work’s substrate, leaving only traces of what once was. These conceited procedures are intended to invite close viewing, but disruptive compositional strategies render the works spatially illogical and impenetrable. For instance, shearing bars and planes along arbitrary lines causes the resulting divisions and scattered fragments to appear to have been seismically dislodged by a caesura or fault or, perhaps, by the play of an invisible “geometric virus.”

Whether the images in my recent works are understood as labyrinthine ground plans for buildings, a network of abstract lines, pathways, crazy paving or maps, they, like many of my paintings that precede these, evidence abstraction’s capacity for diversity, flexibility and personal expression.

Commentators often identify humor, whimsy and wit in my work, but observe that this humor does not arise from ironical critique.




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Dr Irene Barberis at langford120@gmail.com

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