Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings

NAS-Elisabeth-Cummings-Journey-through-the-studio-2004A major exhibition celebrating one of the School’s most esteemed and exceptional alumni, the National Art School  presents Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings.

Featuring more than 55 paintings drawn from public and private collections, they highlight the artist’s singular visual language and inimitable grasp of colour, evolved through decades of dedicated practice.

“I think I needed time. It’s been a gradual process for me. I always painted, I painted as a child; it has been slow finding a voice of my own,” said Elisabeth Cummings.

“It is an enormous pleasure to bring Elisabeth’s work back to the place where she graduated in 1957 and later taught,” said NAS Director and CEO Steven Alderton. “Since leaving art school, she has determinedly and daringly painted her way to the stature of one of Australia’s most eminent artists.”

“Her practice is a deeply intuitive process, steeped in memory and her connection to the Australian landscape, beginning in her Queensland childhood. She is an inspiration to our students today,” said Mr Alderton.

Since the 1970s Cummings has lived and worked at Wedderburn in Sydney’s south-west in a secluded bushland setting, where she still spends time in her mudbrick house.

Intrepid painting trips have taken her all over Australia to work on location, including the Tweed, Monaro and Darling regions in NSW, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the Kimberley in far-north West Australia.

Her practice encompasses landscape and interior works, evoking her feelings and responses to Australia’s unique landforms and ecology, as well as beloved internal spaces.

“Sometimes I work from sketches that I made from memory, but I never refer to photographs. For me, painting is getting back to how I felt in particular landscape … There are paintings that depict interiors, and landscapes, and views of the landscape from interiors, but it’s also all about looking inwards into the figurative memory of experience,” said Elisabeth Cummings.

As a student, teacher and exhibiting artist now in her late 80s, Cummings has had a long connection with NAS. She recalls only six students completed the painting course when she studied here in the 1950s: “The school was an important rite of passage for me and friendships were formed that continue to this day,” she said.

This exhibition will feature interiors on the NAS Gallery ground floor and landscapes in the upstairs gallery, while a display of exquisite gouaches will represent the plein-air aspect of Cummings’ practice. A new scholarly publication and education kit will accompany the show.

Elisabeth Cummings was born in Brisbane in 1934 and began painting as a child before moving to Sydney to attend the National Art School, then East Sydney Technical College. After graduating in 1957, she won the 1958 NSW Travelling Scholarship and for a decade was based in Florence, Italy.

Returning from Europe, she moved to Wedderburn in bushland south of Sydney where she built a house and studio, part of an artist colony. She returned to NAS to teach there part-time for more than 30 years, from 1969 to 2001.

Cummings has been exhibiting for more than 50 years and her works are represented in all major Australian public collections including the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Art Gallery of NSW and NAS Collection.

She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2011 for her services to the visual arts, and in 2017-18 a major retrospective of her work, Elisabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes, toured from Canberra’s Drill Hall Gallery to NSW and Queensland.

In 2022, her work featured in the NGA’s Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now Part Two. Cummings is represented by King Street Gallery on William.

Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings
NAS Gallery – National Art School, 1 Forbes Street, Darlinghurst
Exhibition continues to 21 October 2023
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.nas.edu.au for details.

Image: Elisabeth Cummings, Journey through the studio, 2004 oil on canvas, diptych 175 x 300 cm (overall) – courtesy the artist and King Street Gallery on William