Since the early 1970s, Sydney-based artist Hilarie Mais has consistently produced work underpinned by what she describes as her abiding interest in the history of abstraction, first in the United Kingdom, then the United States, and in Australia since 1981. Opening 23 August 2017, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) presents the first major museum solo exhibition of the artist’s work.
Featuring 20 major works, the exhibition is a close collaboration between the artist and the exhibition curators Blair French (MCA Director, Curatorial and Digital) and Manya Sellers (MCA Assistant Curator). This exhibition traces the last decade of Mais’ practice, since her last survey at the Drill Hall Gallery at ANU in Canberra in 2004.
Mais is best known for her constructions and paintings that merge the formal structure of the grid with an interest in organic forms found in nature. These patterns and sequences are often drawn from the growth of biological forms. Beginning with a geometric pattern the work then develops organically and instinctually, with Mais incorporating a highly personalised application of paint.
Resulting works appear to shimmer optically, drawing the viewer’s eyes back and forth through their cycles of line and colour. Despite the systematic quality of the work, Hilarie Mais notes: “The outcome cannot be predetermined; it evolves, it can be a surprise.”
“Hilarie Mais further establishes MCA’s commitment to supporting Australian and international artists at all stages of their careers,” says MCA Director, Curatorial and Digital, Blair French. “It is a privilege to work with Mais’ whose practice is of great maturity, evidenced in part by the trust in simple materials, forms and processes, and by the way a particular form can be returned to over and over again, producing new meaning.’
Three key threads of the artist’s practice can be seen in the exhibition. The first includes work where a ‘ghosting’ of colour appears to be formed between the work and the wall, drawing the eye beyond the material form and structure of the work to the perceptual field it creates around itself.
The second approach is represented in the ongoing Tempus series of paintings, in which Mais returns over and over again to the basic relationship between the grid/square and circle/spiral systems as an underlying structure for making painted wall-based constructions.
The third is represented in a multiple component work, Nomad (2006–12), produced as a colour spectrum – another system used within the history of abstract art – based upon waste plastics collected by Mais over a number of years. She has always sought to personalise abstraction by emphasising the handmade quality of her work.
“The presence of the artist is always evident in Mais’ work,” says MCA Assistant Curator, Manya Sellers. “Her grids are obviously hand-constructed and hand-painted, and their overall dimensions determined in relation to her own body, never larger than the outstretched reach of her arms. If ‘mistakes’ occur they are left uncorrected, a celebration of the imperfect and the human.”
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, George Street, The Rocks (Sydney)
Exhibition: 23 August – 19 November 2017
For more information, visit: www.mca.com.au for details.
Image: Hilarie Mais, Nomad (detail), 2006-12, synthetic polymer paint on wood, image courtesy and © the artist – photo by Jessica Maurer
Note: After its presentation at the MCA, the exhibition tours to the TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria: 24 February – 29 April 2018, and then the Drill Hall Gallery, ACT: 7 June – 29 July 2018.