A dramatic modernist with a fluid line

Rhonda Dredge

The exquisite work of Shay Docking is part of an exhibition at the Bridget McDonnell Gallery in Carlton, which should be of interest to the collector of 20th century art.

Docking was a modernist landscape painter with a fluid line and great command of black whose work is in all the major galleries.

The exhibition is backed up by monographs and newspaper articles that should appeal to the cultural historian.

Anyone still doubting as to the way female artists were treated in the past need only read the reviews on display.

Docking is quoted in a review in The Age of 1984 as wondering if she was a good artist because she’d been sick all her life and therefore couldn’t have children.

Why were female artists so normative about their personal lives and forced to defend their careers as artists?

Docking was born in Warrnambool in 1928 and lived as a child on the edge of Tower Hill at Koroit, a majestic crater that she drew and painted.

Bridget McDonnell has had two solo exhibitions of drawings from Docking’s estate. She studied under Alan Sumner and exhibited at Australian Galleries.

There are four works in the current show, including a close up of rocky forms at Tidal River from 1952, that are superbly abstracted.

According to the gallery when asked why she didn’t like to sell her drawings, she said: “They are my bank of ideas.”

The ideas in Observatory Hill and Container Docks, The Rocks, 1990 show a beautifully rendered waterside village with the ghost of a city behind it.

Rather than being threatening, the lines are elegant and cubic, perhaps the beginning or remnants of one of her more abstracted landscapes.

The colours are bold and her shapes stylised as towns and linear geomorphic eruptions come together in her paintings.

She particularly loved the contorted forms of the angophora tree and the drama of volcanoes.

“I chose to stay isolated. I’ve always found that the inner eye, the mystical sense of nature has been more active when solitary,” she said.

Her paintings of the water-logged trees of Kow Swamp from 1953 are sublime.

“She was a dramatic modernist with fluid line and was completely original,” Bridget said.

Modern Australian Paintings, Bridget McDonnell Gallery, until June 17. •


Rocks at Tidal River, 1952, ink and watercolour.

Volcano with Blue Lake and Plains 1979, pastel and acrylic on board.

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