Image caption: Cindy Grimes | Era of the App (detail) 2021 | Acrylic on canvas | 610mm x 760mm

Curatorial Essay by Shelley Pisani
Curator: Western Downs Regional Artists’ Exhibition, 2022

The 2022 Western Downs Regional Artists’ Exhibition challenged artists to explore the theme of Kaleidoscope. This seemingly simple viewing device creates optical illusions through the use of light and mirrors, tilted at angles to create abstracted, refracted shapes and colours. We all played with these as children, evoking a strong sense of nostalgia. I remember my first one being a prize from the regional show – a plastic tube with a reflective surface inside and a marble that could be turned at one end to change the colours and shapes as you peered in.

The word kaleidoscope can also be used as an adjective to reflect “complexity and ongoing change” and is also “evocative of the broader cycles and patterns that unfold in nature, and in people themselves. With light, and through the prism of childlike wonder, beauty is observable in life’s game.” With this brief in mind, the artists of the Western Downs have explored a diverse range of perspectives of the theme, taking up the challenge with rigour and complexity.

Several artists explored a relatively literal interpretation of light, reflection, colour, and pattern such as the three-dimensional works including Lisa Stiller’s reflective assemblage; Linda Wilkes’ prismatic turtle; Meg Stevenson’s fused glass; Gillian Kidd and Glenys Gaske’s intricate quilts; the work on paper by Sarah Davis, and photographic work by Courtney McKerrow. Kardia Stoke’s piece is a translation of previous photographic images into kaleidoscopes through digital manipulation, and a commentary on the impact of technology on the artform of photography.

Seth Gerke’s film and photography works show the might of mother nature and the daunting colours, light and patterns created by storms. Others looked at patterns made by nature in a more organic sense, such as Tim Tyrell’s photographic details of cut stone; Kay Joyce’s textile assemblage; Carol McCormack’s impressionist landscape; the flotsam and jetsam of Helen Dennis’ work; Karen Gaskell’s vibrant bird-inspired colours; Patricia Hinz’s treescapes; Guy Breay’s sculpture, and Sharlene Smith’s reflections on the change brought about by burning and seasons.

Hillary Coulter’s textile piece is a dual reflection on life happenings and landscape brought together through exquisite stitching and beading. Wayne Rassmussen and Tracey Irvine provide us with a symbolic look at the landscape and the interventions of humans and mother nature. Chris Osborne touches on the subtle pattern making of humans in nature whilst Susan Jacob’s photograph shows the bold patchwork created by agriculture.

The last few years have been ones of unprecedented change and challenge. It has forced many of us to reflect and reposition ourselves on what is important. Several of the artists have explored perspectives of life, emotion and thought. Deep reflections on life events and memory inspired Cindy Grimes’ beautifully executed self-portrait; Helen Dennis’ reassembled calendar; Regina Hyland’s ethereal representation of a story; Melody Walker’s capturing of moments of joy with her children, and Angelique Delport’s more spiritual interpretation. Steph Pumpa’s mixed media assemblage is an exploration of the complexities of life roles whilst Sarah Davis’ painted table explores chronic anxiety. Kristen Flynn’s intricate print, and Meg Noack’s dingo, challenge the kaleidoscope of human perceptions on the topics explored in their work.

Kay Vidler’s ceramic piece speaks of the predictability and unpredictability of the processes of ceramics, as there is with a kaleidoscope. As a ceramist, you can take an educated guess at some of the outcomes when you open the kiln but there are always surprises. The technical prowess of so many of the artists in this exhibition is astounding. Take the time to explore each piece intimately and admire the skills and experience it takes to get that end result.

It is such a wonderful opportunity for the artists of Western Downs to be challenged by this annual collaboration between Western Downs Regional Council and the Western Downs Galleries Committee (represented by Lapunyah Art Gallery, Chinchilla, Gallery 107 @ Dalby, and Dogwood Crossing, Miles). As the curator it was my absolute pleasure to visit the region again – a place I have been visiting and working in sporadically for over 12 years through various roles in the arts industry. As a visitor I have seen the region in flood and in drought as well as witnessing great propellants of change. The constants shining through are the strength of the people, the stories, creativity, and the unique landscapes that give Western Downs its character. I feel this exhibition is strongly representative of elements of this character through the prismatic lenses of the talent of Western Downs.