Born in 1934, Elisabeth Cummings has been painting professionally for more than 60 years. After graduating from art school in 1957 she won two significant prizes which allowed her to spend a decade working in Europe. Since that time the artist has continued to travel extensively. But she has also never stopped painting the Australian landscape, a fact reflected in the title of her latest solo show: Elisabeth Cummings: Eastern Arrernte Country & Morocco.
In these latest works Cummings uses gouache on paper, a combination that suits her quick gestural brushstrokes and the mobility required when painting en plein air. Her Moroccan compositions harness the semi-abstract quality she is so well known for, translating the ancient city into rhythmic rectilinear patterns. They exhibit a confident linear entanglement slightly reminiscent of works by Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) – a painter Cummings admired – but nevertheless remain entirely her own.
But it is her meditations on Arrernte Country that really sing. Painted in 2019, while camping at Ross River in the Northern Territory, Cummings’s paintings sensitively capture the vibrant ochre landscapes, harsh light and twisted flora of this arid region.
Although he was a Western Arrernte-speaking man, many of Cumming’s responses to the Eastern Arrernte landscape bring to mind iconic paintings by Albert Namatjira (1902-1959), again while retaining her own unique sensibility. This affinity can be seen most clearly in paintings such as 7 Sisters creek bed N’Dhala Gorge, which highlights the sensuous stark beauty of Australia’s native trees, and Late afternoon from the lookout Ross River, in which the artist has rendered the MacDonnell Ranges in a warm purple.
Travelling to either Morocco or the Northern Territory is off the agenda for many of us, for the foreseeable future. But, for now, Elisabeth Cummings offers everyone an artist’s-eye glimpse of these diverse and stunning landscapes.