Judith Wright, born in 1945, was a dancer in the Australian Ballet and in the late 1970s, embarked on a practice in the visual arts. Her works since have appeared in the guise of paper, bronze, performance, video and installation. Wright explains her predilection for working across mediums: “I use what is either at my disposal or feels right. I draw and paint, scavenge and assemble with almost equal enthusiasm.”
More obliquely, and not surprising given her dancing credentials, Wright’s works often indicate the way a body moves and interacts with the surrounding world.
It’s a busy time for the artist. Her installation In the Garden of Good and Evil is currently (5 May–2 September) on show at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), a continuation of a project she started in 2003 to construct the imagined life of a lost child. The figures in Wright’s past installations appear to be well-loved stage props; there is more than a hint of surrealism and the carnivalesque here too. Static and shadowed, the figures are often fantastical – a winged cherubim, a cricket player, a devil mask.
Wright agrees with this evaluation. “They are participants in my imagined underworld,” though she sees the figures as celebratory as much as heavy.
Carrying something of the materiality and symbolism of these installations, Wright presents a suite of new paintings at Fox Jensen Gallery in Sydney. These are mostly small works in acrylic, says Wright, and will have metallic pigments and some drawn elements.
Whatever medium Wright turns to, there is an element of staging in her composition which she attributes to the influence of Sir Robert Helpmann, who co-directed the Australian Ballet. “He was a master of stagecraft,” says Wright. “Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, fellow dancers at the time and with whom I have worked on one of the Desire videos, would concur with this – we have a future work in mind.”