Robyn Sweaney


November 16 - November 30 2013

Robyn Sweaney is renowned for her superbly rendered ‘portraits' of actual, suburban houses but in her latest body of work, the interest lies more in the gardens their inhabitants have fashioned. "I am intrigued by the way people express themselves in creative and resourceful ways within the confines of their own environments," she explains. "Although the exhibition's title references the Greek word topia, meaning ‘a place', the new paintings also aim to capture something of its opposite, utopia: ‘no particular place' or a state of things where everything is perfect."

The history of enclosing outdoor spaces goes back thousands of years. Originally designed for protection and to define boundaries, these areas gradually evolved into attractive settings attuned to pleasure and relaxation. Once only the privileged few could afford the time and expense necessary to create a purely ornamental garden. Nowadays however, with the advent of well-stocked hardware stores in most country towns and suburbs, anyone can access affordable tools to prune and clip away at nature. Front yards everywhere display ‘living sculptures' that reflect the imaginings of a utopian existence where order, stability and contentment reign. "There's a lot of heart-shaped topiary going on," smiles Sweaney.

Evening is falling around these homes. There's a quietude; a sense of ‘slippage' as the ‘Blue Hour' descends, heralding a time of withdrawal from the outside world's activities. "It is always emotionally comforting when passing a house to glimpse a soft light shining through the window," Sweaney muses. "I think it's a common subliminal feeling to know someone is home and settling in for the night, dinner is being prepared, all is well." Sweet Light is a term used by photographers to describe this gentle interval between sunset and nightfall.

In the Nestlian picture native bush looms just beyond the roof of a white-painted house. Markedly contrasting with those tall, swaying branches, every tree in its garden has been fastidiously manicured. Random, wild nature has been systematically tamed. The title of the painting is an Old English word and alludes to the notion that this little abode is nestling safely and securely behind its neatly hedged bounds. Out on the footpath, directly in line with the centre of the house, a heart-shaped shrub declares the residents' ideal.

Each painting in the Topia series is as carefully and lovingly wrought as the manicured gardens they depict. Designed with meticulous attention to detail, colour interactions and compositional factors, a curious glow emanates from the flat perfection of the acrylic on linen surfaces. Although seemingly accurate visual depictions, our fascination lies in the impression that Sweaney's topiary-filled landscapes might signify something other than their outward appearances. "Do these gardens represent a poetic expression of humankind's yearning for the idylls of a distant Arcadia or are they perhaps just eccentric flights of fancy?"

The sensitivity and refinement of Sweaney's engagement with her prosaic subject matter has earned her multiple representations in many of the nation's most prestigious art awards. To name but a few: the Portia Geach Memorial Award; the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize; the Sulman Prize; the Wynne Prize for Landscape; the Fleurieu Art Prize; the Gallipoli Art Prize; the Salon des Refuses; the Paddington Art Prize; the Mosman Art Prize; the Northern Rivers Portrait Prize; the Tattersall's Club Landscape Prize; the Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize; JADA, Jacaranda Drawing Prize; EMSLA, Still Life Award and the Country Energy Art Prize. Sweaney holds a Bachelor of Education (Arts and Crafts), State College of Victoria, Melbourne, 1978. She has been the part-time Education and Audience Development Officer, Tweed River Art Gallery, Murwillumbah since 2011.



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