Helen Eager: The Drawing Room

ONLINE through August and September 2021

from August 2021

exhibition essay

HELEN EAGER

It is impossible to walk through the corridors of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art without being captivated by the striking abstract forms of Helen Eager’s Tango. This monumental mural, extended across the Ground Floor wall, exhibits Eager’s astonishing ability to exude captivating energy with such a minimal composition. The satisfying harmony of each equilateral triangle is challenged with an enticing tension as each form barely touches the next. Each shape holds its own in the negative space while simultaneously creating synergistic relationships with each other as they intermingle and dance a ‘tango’ together.

The MCA and Helen Eager have had a strong and cherished relationship over the years with Eager’s last major retrospective exhibition coinciding with the reveal of Tango in March 2012, inaugurating the prestigious MCA’s Circular Quay Foyer Wall Commissions. In 2021, prolonged anticipation mounts to see which visual delights will light up Sydney’s cityscape in the beloved Vivid Sydney Festival, Helen Eager will hold the prime position projected across the exterior façade of the MCA. To accompany this anticipated reveal, Utopia Art Sydney will host a dual-location exhibition to display a rare insight into the evolution of Eager’s works. Drawing Room, at Utopia Art Sydney’s Bourke St location will delve into Eager’s early 1970s works on paper while a second, more exclusive display, will be held in a private gallery to showcase some larger scale works and reveal her latest endeavours.

It is an uncommon privilege to be able to explore the retrospective of a living artist, and to engage with their own direct reflections on their vocations as an artist. Modest as she may be, Eager has risen as one of the leading Australian Abstract artists; represented in every major Australia public and private collection with a career spanning nearly five decades, 30 solo exhibitions and 130 group exhibitions. However, her distinctive geometric practice originated from an almost unrecognisable style. Born in Sydney, Eager’s artistic interests developed in her formative years studying printmaking at the South Australian School of Art in the 1970s, during a pivotal era for women’s art globally. Drawn to colour from the start, she drew inspiration from artists such as David Hockney as she studied the landscape of her immediate domestic interiors. Considering the spatial relationships, the personality of decoration, and the interactions of light within the private spaces of her studio and living rooms, Eager explored the playful, delighted senses of intimacy and home. Rare examples of these were recently showcased in the National Gallery of Australia’s 2020-2021 Know My Name exhibition, celebrating eminent women artists of Australia.

Looking towards her major upcoming exhibitions has drawn Eager back to the deepest layers of her studio drawers to reflect on her past body of work. Her impressively vast catalogue of works reveals a deeply thoughtful and creative evolution. Residing in these drawers, careful preparatory sketches, water colours, crayon and gouaches beautifully narrate Eager’s process of reimagining and honing the infinite possibilities of her abstract forms. Notably, Eager reflects on how as you delve deeper into the strikingly unfamiliar subjects and techniques of her earlier, representational works from art school, “you make connections that you hadn’t noticed before”. Within these playful studies of domestic interiors, the angular silhouettes of triangular forms and her instinctual eye for the relationships of contrasting colours begins to emerge, revealing the essence of her eventual shift to pure abstraction. These connections may be noticed in the upcoming Utopia Art Sydney exhibitions.

            It was during a residency in the late eighties amidst the epicentre of a boom in New York’s art district where Eager’s practice pivoted towards her signature style of pure abstraction. The evolution of her work from this point onwards is the subject of the upcoming Vivid Sydney piece, New York Sunday. In collaboration with motion graphic designers, Rico and Julian Reinhold, Eager’s immersion into the abstract realm has been transformed into life in a real dance. Projected over six-storeys, Eager’s triangles are conceived almost as organisms, dancing and vibrating against each other, before disappearing and reappearing through a vortex of abstract geometry. Accompanied by the driving, but melodic electropop composition of Paul Mac, the piece is an elegant fusion of retro and contemporary. Returning to the piece after an extensive production process, Eager was delighted; her collaborators have injected an innovative new dimension in the digital medium while authentically savouring the beauty and narrative of her work.

            Helen Eager and Vivid Sydney are a seamless pairing; both timeless celebrations of light, colour and movement, applied with a careful eye for analytical geometry. While much of the artworld persists to be motivated by hardship, one of the most alluring qualities of Helen Eager’s works is the sharp sensations of pleasure and passion, injecting us with a fervour for the beauty of the world around us.

India Ford 2021

HELEN EAGER

It is impossible to walk through the corridors of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art without being captivated by the striking abstract forms of Helen Eager’s Tango. This monumental mural, extended across the Ground Floor wall, exhibits Eager’s astonishing ability to exude captivating energy with such a minimal composition. The satisfying harmony of each equilateral triangle is challenged with an enticing tension as each form barely touches the next. Each shape holds its own in the negative space while simultaneously creating synergistic relationships with each other as they intermingle and dance a ‘tango’ together.

The MCA and Helen Eager have had a strong and cherished relationship over the years with Eager’s last major retrospective exhibition coinciding with the reveal of Tango in March 2012, inaugurating the prestigious MCA’s Circular Quay Foyer Wall Commissions. In 2021, prolonged anticipation mounts to see which visual delights will light up Sydney’s cityscape in the beloved Vivid Sydney Festival, Helen Eager will hold the prime position projected across the exterior façade of the MCA. To accompany this anticipated reveal, Utopia Art Sydney will host a dual-location exhibition to display a rare insight into the evolution of Eager’s works. Drawing Room, at Utopia Art Sydney’s Bourke St location will delve into Eager’s early 1970s works on paper while a second, more exclusive display, will be held in a private gallery to showcase some larger scale works and reveal her latest endeavours.

It is an uncommon privilege to be able to explore the retrospective of a living artist, and to engage with their own direct reflections on their vocations as an artist. Modest as she may be, Eager has risen as one of the leading Australian Abstract artists; represented in every major Australia public and private collection with a career spanning nearly five decades, 30 solo exhibitions and 130 group exhibitions. However, her distinctive geometric practice originated from an almost unrecognisable style. Born in Sydney, Eager’s artistic interests developed in her formative years studying printmaking at the South Australian School of Art in the 1970s, during a pivotal era for women’s art globally. Drawn to colour from the start, she drew inspiration from artists such as David Hockney as she studied the landscape of her immediate domestic interiors. Considering the spatial relationships, the personality of decoration, and the interactions of light within the private spaces of her studio and living rooms, Eager explored the playful, delighted senses of intimacy and home. Rare examples of these were recently showcased in the National Gallery of Australia’s 2020-2021 Know My Name exhibition, celebrating eminent women artists of Australia.

Looking towards her major upcoming exhibitions has drawn Eager back to the deepest layers of her studio drawers to reflect on her past body of work. Her impressively vast catalogue of works reveals a deeply thoughtful and creative evolution. Residing in these drawers, careful preparatory sketches, water colours, crayon and gouaches beautifully narrate Eager’s process of reimagining and honing the infinite possibilities of her abstract forms. Notably, Eager reflects on how as you delve deeper into the strikingly unfamiliar subjects and techniques of her earlier, representational works from art school, “you make connections that you hadn’t noticed before”. Within these playful studies of domestic interiors, the angular silhouettes of triangular forms and her instinctual eye for the relationships of contrasting colours begins to emerge, revealing the essence of her eventual shift to pure abstraction. These connections may be noticed in the upcoming Utopia Art Sydney exhibitions.

            It was during a residency in the late eighties amidst the epicentre of a boom in New York’s art district where Eager’s practice pivoted towards her signature style of pure abstraction. The evolution of her work from this point onwards is the subject of the upcoming Vivid Sydney piece, New York Sunday. In collaboration with motion graphic designers, Rico and Julian Reinhold, Eager’s immersion into the abstract realm has been transformed into life in a real dance. Projected over six-storeys, Eager’s triangles are conceived almost as organisms, dancing and vibrating against each other, before disappearing and reappearing through a vortex of abstract geometry. Accompanied by the driving, but melodic electropop composition of Paul Mac, the piece is an elegant fusion of retro and contemporary. Returning to the piece after an extensive production process, Eager was delighted; her collaborators have injected an innovative new dimension in the digital medium while authentically savouring the beauty and narrative of her work.

            Helen Eager and Vivid Sydney are a seamless pairing; both timeless celebrations of light, colour and movement, applied with a careful eye for analytical geometry. While much of the artworld persists to be motivated by hardship, one of the most alluring qualities of Helen Eager’s works is the sharp sensations of pleasure and passion, injecting us with a fervour for the beauty of the world around us.

India Ford 2021