Cover image of the review
Virginia Cuppaidge, * Vrinda*, 1982, Acrylic on canvas 114 x 182 cm.

Virginia Cuppaidge, The Skyspace Paintings 1977 - 1982

4 Apr 2020
26 Feb - 15 Mar 2020

Paintings, like people, change over time, so it is always a fascinating exercise to unfurl canvases kept safely in storage for more than four decades and show them in a fresh light and in a different country to that in which they were conceived. Virginia Cuppaidge’s Skyspace series, from the late 1970s and early 1980s, embodies the opalescent Manhattan sky but is infused with memories of the bleached colours of the Australian landscape. Now, against the cool white of a Collingwood gallery’s walls, they acquire a retrospective aura that permits a new view, across time and place, allowing us to reflect on this short but pivotal phase of Cuppaidge’s work.

Virginia Cuppaidge The Skyspace Paintings 1977 - 1982, installation view, Nicholas Thompson Gallery, 2020.

The earliest work in the exhibition, Sapphire, 1977, represents a transition from Cuppaidge’s first series painted in New York: the Geometrics. Begun in 1970, and inspired initially by Manhattan’s “looming skyscrapers on the dark avenues”, the Geometrics are large horizontal abstract compositions framed along the top and bottom with two rectangles of contrasting or unexpected colours (turquoise and yellow, maroon and blue, or—in the case of Sapphire—pale salmon and candy pink). The rectangles are tautly separated by an in-between zone, often loosely brushed in, akin to a breath or to the air between two hands held one above the other without touching. Both the large slabs of colour and the careful attention to painterly process reflect the sort of work Cuppaidge responded to at the time: Brice Marden’s minimalist canvases, Mark Rothko’s soft-edged forms and Hans Hofmann’s rigorously structured blocks of intense colour.

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