Aida Tomescu is without question one of Australia’s most important painters. She has been the recipient of the Sulman, Wynne and Dobell prizes and had a major survey of her painting at the Drill Hall Gallery in 2009. This survey was accompanied by an important essay by Dr. Deborah Hart of the National Gallery, one that demonstrates a long affinity with and sensitivity to the work.
Whilst Tomescu’s work is made here, its genesis and its manifestation point to a much greater awareness and historical cognizance of traditions in painting that gratefully transcend the claustrophobia of the provincial.
Tomescu herself suggests that Australia afforded her the “space” and distance, even a quality of isolation that she feels is crucial to her work. Though it is the tenacity and independence of spirit in Tomescu that provides the ballast and footing for working in this location whilst letting her neatly side-step the potentially suffocating narratives that can relegate painting to cultural illustration.
Ultimately Tomescu’s work asserts a character that is deeply personal whilst transcending the diaristic confines associated with much “expressionist” painting.
Freed from the obligation to instruct the viewer about place, Tomescu is able to give us an experience of painting, of colour, of form, of material and gesture that doesn’t seek to mimic nature – it simply is its own nature. What we see in her work is a visual and conceptual density, one where the legacy of construction holds firm as a new image emerges.
It is true that many viewers find mimicry appealing, given the easy flattery it offers those tempted into believing that recognition equals understanding. However, what we surely want from painting is an experience we can’t uncover elsewhere. When an image is remade in paint we are reminded about the complexities of vision, about the way that it is capable of altering, enhancing and challenging our perceptions, by letting vision be more than an ocular phenomenon.??I have spent quite some time with Aida in her studio and one of the first things I am aware of, other than to not find myself leaning too close to a fresh painting, is that they seem ti measure her body in a Vitruvian sense. When Aida shifts one canvas to look at another, she disappears behind the stretcher almost entirely. They appear to measure her “extent”. This relationship to the body is reinforced by the scale and reach of the gesture, all of which are calibrated to a series of sizes that she repeats time and again. Like Agnes Martin’s commitment to certain dimensions, maintaining a consistency across the size of the field allows for less predetermined adventures within its confines.??In talking with Aida it is apparent that each work has pictorial responsibilities for her; that these paintings depend on a set of conventions and in a sense orthodoxies, that one might assume, amidst such energy, were dispensed with. Not so.??My feeling is that in the very best sense of the word, these paintings carry a quiet conservatism. Their efficacy depends on being part of a historical progression, albeit a looping, not linear one. Aida is aware that making paintings in a serious way is a responsibility and an act of resistance. The facile way that so much painting is produced today threatens to erode the position that the best painting can occupy – one alongside philosophy, literature, and music as conduits to an appreciation of what it means to make, to feel, to understand.