Exhibitions / Romantica

07.03.2023 to 25.03.2023

Catalogue essay by Marguerite Brown (MA ArtCur) 2023

When Gina Kalabishis goes walking in the bush, occasionally she encounters a “space of awe”i that literally stops her in her tracks. Most of us can relate to being unexpectedly awestruck by the light, atmosphere, and sheer ebullient glory of the natural world. It takes you away from your thoughts – the busy shopping list of your life administration; the email to be sent, the phone call to return. Certain moments remind us we are part of something infinitely bigger than ourselves. This is the space of awe that Kalabishis seeks to evoke in this new body of work Romantica.

Most of the paintings in Romantica are inspired by time spent on Yuin country at the bushland Gang Gang Residency on the south coast of NSW, where she was artist in residence in 2021. Other works feature scenes taken from Cape Conran Coastal Park along Victoria’s far east wilderness coast. Both places hold personal significance for Kalabishis, having spent numerous summers on family camping trips at Cape Conran, and being moved by the unique history and stunning wilderness of Umbi Gumbi, a 100 acre property and co-operative where the Gang Gang Residency is situated.

Just as humans will never lose the innate desire to commune with the natural world, artists will forever imbue representations of nature with emotional resonance. As the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire wrote in 1846, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling.” Kalabishis’ work has long been dedicated to the realm of feeling, or one feeling in particular – love. She compares the experience of nature’s sublime beauty with falling in love. This heady subject matter is developed in earlier works through her fusion of ikebana inspired still life arrangements with atmospheric landscapes. 

In Romantica the hovering still life arrangements have gone, and the artist’s eye turns to the understory of the bush. Here the tangled vegetation of the forest floor carries the blackened scars of recent bushfires, dramatically cast against slivery green foliage and in many works punctuated by explosions of orange flowers. While bushfire has always been a part of the Australian experience, today imagery of burnt scrub carries with it a potent environmental message as climate change brings an escalation of these natural disasters. Celebrating the beauty of a place can act as a passive plea for protection, and these works are no exception. 

In one of the major works, ‘If I didn’t have your love’ (after Leonard Cohen) an impenetrable melange of ferns, banksias and other vegetation consume the picture plane. Pale areas of mist rise alongside dark pockets of shadow creating an atmospheric space ripe with mystery. This work showcases the artist’s seductive palette of red, blue, purple and grey that is carried throughout the exhibition. It also features the quintessentially hardy native banksia tree that populate many works. Banksia’s tough cones are adapted to release seeds in response to bushfires, and here they serve as a reminder of the capacity of life to flourish even in the most hostile environment. 

One can glean metaphoric associations that mirror personal relationships in these new paintings. Kalabishis depicts the space after a calamity, when the firestorm has passed. But instead of desolation she finds wonder, wresting beauty out of the chaos and with it an enduring promise of new life. 

Gina Kalabishis, in conversation with the author 10th February 2023

If I didn't have your Love (after Leonard Cohen) 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

If I didn't have your Love (after Leonard Cohen)  2023

oil on linen

198 x 137cm

9 January 2021-Afterwards(after Nina Nastasia) 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

9 January 2021-Afterwards(after Nina Nastasia)  2023

oil on linen

51x51cm, Private Collection

Banksia Bluff 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

Banksia Bluff  2023

oil on canvas

40 x 50 cm, Private Collection

The one I love (after Rem) 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

The one I love (after Rem)  2023

oil on canvas

40 x 50cm, Private Collection

Someone like you (after Van Morrison) 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

Someone like you (after Van Morrison)  2023

oil on linen

61x91cm, Private Collection

SalmonRocks 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

SalmonRocks  2023

oil on board

41 x 33cm, Private Collection

They were waiting for love 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

They were waiting for love  2023

oil on linen

38 x 28cm, Private Collection

Dunes (after Chequerboard) 2023 by Gina Kalabishis

Dunes (after Chequerboard)  2023

oil on linen

38 x 28cm, Private Collection