The work of Hilarie Mais presents an uncommon combination: the geometric and abstract married – unexpectedly, successfully – with the atmospheric and the organic.
Blair French, director of curatorial and digital at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, remembers seeing Mais’ works for the first time more than a decade ago; his encounters with her unusual gems have impressed him ever since. He jumped at giving her a solo show last year and now it is travelling to Yarra Valley’s TarraWarra Museum of Art, offering an expanded experience with a small exhibition of contextual works curated by TarraWarra director Victoria Lynn.
French describes Mais’ work with great eloquence, capturing the way she grapples with what might be described as hard-edged traits – mathematics, geometry, and grids – with what are commonly perceived as softer elements: the cellular, the biological and the evolutionary.
“And then you are up close to them [in the gallery] and they are imperfect, they have all the visible brushmarks… they are manifestly handmade.”
The solo show covers the past 12 years of the UK-born artist’s work, during which time she has moved from a bolder palette to paler hues, with pastels, whites and raw timber. At TarraWarra, unlike the MCA, there will be a lot of natural light through the exhibiting space. French explains that the works actually cast reflective shadows onto walls, creating mists of colour and perceptual play for the viewer. For her part, Lynn’s smaller show Modern Currents will explore the thread of geometric abstraction running through Mais’ work with pieces from the likes of Sidney Ball, Yvonne Audette, John Nixon, Robert Jacks and Robert Owen