2008 The Edge

The paintings and drawings in EDGE are my response to the drought conditions and isolation of the desert. The salt bush became the metaphor for me of the feminine spirit of our land.

Importantly selections of these works were shown both in Melbourne and Sydney and signalled my representation as an artist with Anita Traverso Gallery in Richmond,Melbourne. Anita organised Victoria Hammond to write the response to the work below and she kindly opened the show, my work was shown in Gallery 2. The Melbourne sculptor Kate Hendry opened her show Grey Scale in Gallery 1. The beginning of an important relationship that continues to today.

I had shown the year before with Anita Traverso in a group show with two artists whom I admire strongly for their work and as friends, Russell Way and Costantine Nicholas. I had met them through my partner Gregory's gallery ROM that had operated in Darlinghurst from 1992-1995 where we had all had one man shows. It was Russell who initially met and negotiated our group show with Anita, it was called Journey 3 Courtenay + Nicholas + Way and was a success for us all. 

It also signalled my representation with Charles Hewitt in Sydney, after being in his Xmas group show late 2007. The Sydney show draw large crowds and was noted in press articles.



Catalogue Essay, EDGE 2007


During Gabrielle Courtenay’s month alone in the isolated desert country of Fowlers Gap, with its fierce heat and winds, she became aware of the many symbolic meanings distilled in the tortured forms of its dried saltbush. In Edge, she has transformed these tiny skeletons of plants into bewitching forms of poetic beauty, and in doing so has reinvigorated and updated the long tradition of vanitas painting.

When I first saw these new paintings, I was immediately reminded of some remarkable examples of vanitas I’d seen in St Petersburg’s Museum of Ethnography. They’d been created by a pioneering 18th century Dutch anatomist, who was obsessed with the body’s arterial system, which he referred to as ‘God’s drawings’. From the treated capillaries, arteries and veins of the corpses of deformed infants, he constructed elaborate, fantastical gardens, peopling them with tiny foetal skeletons. Macabre as they are, these assemblages have poignancy to them, for like Courtenay’s paintings they are reminders of the fragility and ephemeral nature of life. At the same time, the similarities between the anatomist’s branch forms and Courtenay’s visceral saltbush branches to the underlying interconnectedness of all living things.


Courtenay’s paintings, however, extend these traditional meanings of vanitas into the 21st century. They invite us to meditate upon the destruction of the landscape through drought, clearing and over-farming; the creation of, in the words of Italo Calvino, an endless, formless ruin. The image in And darkness winds between the footings #1, looks as if it’s about to be whisked away by the wind. And while the splendid colonial buildings in the grips of the ghostly plant’s roots refer bot tho Courtenay’s architectural background and nature’s interconnection with human history and culture, they also carry a sense of the ever-present threat to our architectural heritage. One of the most aesthetically engaging aspects of these paintings is their eloquence of line, whether it be the tortured forms of the saltbush or the looping red calligraphy of an ill-wind that blows from the past, through the present and into the future.


Victoria Hammond, 2007.