Claire Bridge has always masterfully executed the models who have graced her canvases. Painstakingly she has elevated them with a skillset likened to Master painters of old, rendering reclining nudes and subjects gazing wistfully into a star-spattered sky.
Yet with her latest body of work she has consciously relaxed her hand, allowed her paintbrush to lay lightly within her fingertips and instead of depicting the life model before her with an acute analytic gaze, she has allowed her mind to wander. Her strokes are broader, her application painterly and more loosely flowing. It is here where Bridge has allowed us to explore a unique intimacy with the artist and her model that cannot be found within taut lines and the marks of a conscious brush.
Before embarking on her latest exhibition, Bridge undertook a residency in North West Victoria at the Art Vault in Mildura. Leaving behind the grey shades of Melbourne and her studio nestled in quiet suburbia, she embraced the harsh landscape of the north – the cadmium red that tints the earth, the dusky pinks and greys of Lake Mungo desert, the dense native grasses that flow and thrive beside billabongs and towering, ancient river red gums whose limbs define the landscape where the town of Mildura dwells.
Whilst engaging with the artistic community who at once embraced her, Bridge was enchanted by how stimulating and invigorating the surroundings were in which she found herself. Becoming lost to colours, scents and sounds and with a newfound resonance with the landscape, when she returned to the city something within her remained alight.
Bridge harnessed this newfound flame, reigniting her love affair with the medium of paint itself. Selecting a palette of hues that lay somewhere between her sub-conscious and imagination, she took to paper with a brush and beautiful, softly abstracted landscapes began to form. Refreshing for the artist, who would usually paint so articulately, to allow her memory to solely guide her mark making.
This is a theme for Bridge that has informed and underlined an entire body of work. The glimpses of clarity that we may find when recalling memories that are stimulated by a scent, a feeling, or perhaps the inflection of a thought previously experienced at once blurred with the selves who we identify with now, forged from past experiences. ‘Memory awakens and gives depth, richness and meaning to the present moment,’ the artist says of her driving force.
Responding to the desire to capture these fleeting notions, Bridge has used her figures to anchor her ephemeral landscapes. Moving between fluid brushstrokes, flurries of colour, emanations of beauty, spontaneity of movement and subtle depiction of form, she has carefully situated the figurative within an abstracted mode of meditation.
Trusting her internal dialogue and exploring how memories can inform our present, influence our future and the ways in which we allow ourselves to reflect upon our past, Claire Bridge has instilled within her work a strong sense of self – of connectedness, of exploration, of contemplation and most importantly, of surrender to intuition.
Claire Bridge’s work sold out at the 2014 Melbourne Art Fair, and she has been selected as a finalist in major art prizes including the Black Swan Portraiture Prize 2014 (Silver Medal, Highly Commended) The 2014 Shirley Hannan National Portait Award (Winner People’s Choice), the R & M McGivern Prize (2012), the Gold Coast Art Prize (2012), the A.M.E. Bale Art Prize (2012), the Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (2012 & 2013) and the Sir John Sulman Prize (2011).
In 2009, she won both the People’s Choice Award and the Living Art Award for the Stan and Maureen Duke Gold Coast Art Prize. With her portrait If Looks Could Kill, she was a finalist in the 2009 Doug Moran National Portrait Prize for the second year running. Her work is in the Maroondah Art Gallery (Federation Estate) and the Holmes a Court Collections, as well as private collections throughout Australia and internationally.
Flinders Lane Gallery, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 22 August 2015
For more information, visit: www.flg.com.au for details.
Image: Claire Bridge, The Crossing (2015) oil on linen 152cm x 152cm
Words: Melanie Caple, BArts(FA), MArts, 2015 (this article originally appeared on: www.flg.com.au)