Helen Eager

Intersections

5 - 26 September

exhibition essay

“New York ... a city of geometric heights, a petrified desert of grids and lattices, an inferno of greenish abstraction under a flat sky, a real Metropolis from which man is absent by his very accumulation.”
- Roland Barthes

A lot of things have come together for Helen Eager in New York.

In 1988, during her Greene Street studio residency, Eager first made the plunge into pure abstraction. Initially inspired by the view out her window - past a lamp, a heater, a sofa, into that pale ethereal light of a Manhattan winter - she was soon making work that focused in towards an objectless contemplation of line and shape, of colour and light. This focus has been a constant as Eager’s work has continued to evolve.

New York city’s very structure – its towers, its skylines, its avenues, its intersections – invokes geometry at its most cacophonous and invigorating. There may be few straight lines in nature, but New York has an abundance of them flying in every direction. This city is the surrogate mother of geometric abstraction – Mondrian’s muse, Agnes Martin’s demon. It has a deep respect for its abstract artists, and geometric abstraction features prominently in its galleries and museums. So no wonder things might have come together for Eager there.

In the northern winter of 2014, Eager travelled back to New York. The main reason for this trip was to see an exhibition of Matisse cut outs at the Museum of Modern Art, but of course there were also plenty of opportunities to see other art and to visit her old haunts.  Impressed by Matisse’s boldness and confidence, reinforced by the continuing poignancy of abstraction in New York’s art scene, Eager returned to her Sydney studio with certainty and a sense of purpose.

What she began to make had been brewing for some time.

For almost a decade, Eager had been drawing, printing, painting chains of triangles on a white ground. These compositions were a vehicle of deceptive simplicity, with seemingly endless potential for exploring interactions between colours, and between positive and negative space. Over the past few years, Eager was also drawing web-like networks in which triangles were linked by lines according to particular rules.

For Eager, drawing is a form of thinking. As her criss-crossing linear compositions in sketch books and concertina artist books became more and more refined, the next step towards large-scale paintings became clearer.

As such, the shift from these networks of lines and chains of triangles on white towards the tessellating shapes of “Intersections” was not seismic.  In Eager’s ordered way, it all makes sense. One thing leads to another, through constant and dedicated work in the studio. The meditative practice of making, the exhaustive exploration of permutations of form and colour, results in an innate sense of composition – how to make an image just right, and somehow alive.

In this latest body of work, the triangles are still there, but surrounded now by angular polygons that make the canvas into a prismatic space of jutting corners and competing planes. Here, the unifying exterior edges evoke single multi-faceted objects, teetering within their rectangular confines as though balancing upon an apex. Each “object” emits its own individual light, has its own peculiar alchemy.  

Bold and confident, a cacophonous geometry; it’s tempting to read the paintings through the lens of New York, not the least because of their titles. But they are really more suggestive of the artist’s internal logic, her distinctive way of looking at the world, than they are of any street corner in Manhattan.

Chloe Watson

“New York ... a city of geometric heights, a petrified desert of grids and lattices, an inferno of greenish abstraction under a flat sky, a real Metropolis from which man is absent by his very accumulation.”
- Roland Barthes

A lot of things have come together for Helen Eager in New York.

In 1988, during her Greene Street studio residency, Eager first made the plunge into pure abstraction. Initially inspired by the view out her window - past a lamp, a heater, a sofa, into that pale ethereal light of a Manhattan winter - she was soon making work that focused in towards an objectless contemplation of line and shape, of colour and light. This focus has been a constant as Eager’s work has continued to evolve.

New York city’s very structure – its towers, its skylines, its avenues, its intersections – invokes geometry at its most cacophonous and invigorating. There may be few straight lines in nature, but New York has an abundance of them flying in every direction. This city is the surrogate mother of geometric abstraction – Mondrian’s muse, Agnes Martin’s demon. It has a deep respect for its abstract artists, and geometric abstraction features prominently in its galleries and museums. So no wonder things might have come together for Eager there.

In the northern winter of 2014, Eager travelled back to New York. The main reason for this trip was to see an exhibition of Matisse cut outs at the Museum of Modern Art, but of course there were also plenty of opportunities to see other art and to visit her old haunts.  Impressed by Matisse’s boldness and confidence, reinforced by the continuing poignancy of abstraction in New York’s art scene, Eager returned to her Sydney studio with certainty and a sense of purpose.

What she began to make had been brewing for some time.

For almost a decade, Eager had been drawing, printing, painting chains of triangles on a white ground. These compositions were a vehicle of deceptive simplicity, with seemingly endless potential for exploring interactions between colours, and between positive and negative space. Over the past few years, Eager was also drawing web-like networks in which triangles were linked by lines according to particular rules.

For Eager, drawing is a form of thinking. As her criss-crossing linear compositions in sketch books and concertina artist books became more and more refined, the next step towards large-scale paintings became clearer.

As such, the shift from these networks of lines and chains of triangles on white towards the tessellating shapes of “Intersections” was not seismic.  In Eager’s ordered way, it all makes sense. One thing leads to another, through constant and dedicated work in the studio. The meditative practice of making, the exhaustive exploration of permutations of form and colour, results in an innate sense of composition – how to make an image just right, and somehow alive.

In this latest body of work, the triangles are still there, but surrounded now by angular polygons that make the canvas into a prismatic space of jutting corners and competing planes. Here, the unifying exterior edges evoke single multi-faceted objects, teetering within their rectangular confines as though balancing upon an apex. Each “object” emits its own individual light, has its own peculiar alchemy.  

Bold and confident, a cacophonous geometry; it’s tempting to read the paintings through the lens of New York, not the least because of their titles. But they are really more suggestive of the artist’s internal logic, her distinctive way of looking at the world, than they are of any street corner in Manhattan.

Chloe Watson