I have been staring at the same few pieces for the last twenty minutes. Sweet Sorrow, Suddenly the Lake, Acanthus. But they’re all so beautiful, and when you stare at one, you really stare at it for quite a while, because there’s so much to see and feel. And then many hours pass, and you realize that you should probably stop looking and just write that damn blog post.
What did a metropolis feel like to Rosalie Gascoigne? A metropolis is a place of busyness and largeness, in both people and diversity. And as a result, traffic, which in this context, could be another word for freedom. In her piece Metropolis, tucked among words like ‘zone’, ‘ahead’, ‘hazard’, and ‘traffic’ is ‘Adelaide Ave‘, a signifier of the vast Australian landscape that so largely inspired her works. Then, there’s Traffic Snarl, Directives, Please Drive Slowly, Through Road and others that have less traffic-y titles, but obviously made of the same retro-reflective roadsigns that spell out landscapes of movement; of where we are, and where we once were; each essentially a timeline and reminder. Although her roadsign stuff seemingly pervades throughout, it’s only a fraction of her wonderfully diverse oeuvre, an oeuvre that is so aesthetically and emotionally engrossing.
Gascoigne’s motivation behind making her art was simply because she needed to, not only as an escape from the social expectations of women as housewives in the 1950s, but to simply make and feel something significant in her own life. It’s “emotion recollected in tranquility,” she described in an Australian Biography Project interview. “You think of something that it reminds you of, or why you like it or whatever. And it is that Wordsworthian thing that past experiences get woven into the work. Things you’ve felt. Anything that’s given you an emotional — if I say kick, that’s not the right word — but that has… Yes, if you’ve had an emotion about anything, it’ll get back into your work, because that’s what it’s about; it’s about feeling, about how you feel. Not about how it looks, it’s about how you feel about it. And then things fall against each other and you get strange juxtapositions.” Her art, sourced from organic materials and discards found throughout Australia, celebrates nature, its grace, acceptance, beauty, order, and truth, the antithesis to her private life thronged with struggle, chaos, and loneliness. Her reconstruction of nature meant peace and personal freedom.
Gascoigne’s life and work is a testament to that familiar phrase, “It’s never too late.” Her first serious exhibition was at age fifty-seven, and she continued to make art up until her death at eighty-two. She was a mother of three, a wife to an astronomer, and a misfit who finally found her niche.