Vicki Varvaressos had been painting for more than two decades when she first started producing abstract works. “I remember when I first did it,” she says, “it was probably quite shocking!”
Even these days, some 20 years later, Varvaressos is still primarily known for her lively figures in intriguing tableaux. But her latest exhibition, at Watters Gallery where she has shown since 1975, is a display of her prowess in expressive abstraction.
For the Sydney-based painter, abstraction is just a different painting vocabulary. “It’s the same language,” she says. “It’s the way I paint, so I think it has always been lurking there.”
What Varvaressos means by this is that her process is deeply embodied; the expressive, active gestures of her abstract works are also found in her figures or still-life compositions. “To me painting is a physical activity, very much so,” she explains, “In fact, if you don’t have the energy you just know there’s no point starting that day. You’ve got to have those energy levels. You are moving a lot, especially with abstract things.”
And her high energy, improvisational attitude has infused her canvases with dynamism. Using a palette of pinks, purples, turquoise, and mauves, punctuated by an occasional burst of yellow or writhing black lines, her paintings do seem to bop to their own internal beats.
And with names like Foxtrot, Blue Quartet and Jazz, it is tempting to read these works as music translated into colourful gestures. But Varvaressos happily admits that while music is enormously important to her, these artworks are simply about the pure joy of painting.