Aida Tomescu

Aida Tomescu meets Artist Profile in a café near her apartment the day after she has flown back to Australia following two months in Europe, where she saw the Venice Biennale and her favourite Titian altarpieces at the Frari.

Tomescu says while in Paris she spent nearly every day at the Louvre, giving a day to the work of one artist at a time. One day it was Ingres’ nudes, another it’s Watteau’s landscape scenes, another Giotto’s St Francis Receiving the Stigmata – always looking for the artist’s hand in the work. Time spent in deep looking is an investment in sharpening her perception.

She takes great joy in closely observing each artist’s thought process as it is embodied in their application of paint. Showing me a photo of a Chardin still life on her iPad she talks about how he built layers of paint to soften the definition between the ground and the edge of a glass bottle. ‘I find with all painting, it’s the subtle areas in the work that give the painting its life,’ she says.

Tomescu’s own practice, honed over forty years, is compelled by the same devotion to teasing out an idea over time. While her canvases are perhaps best known for their rich colours and bold textures, these characteristics are of secondary interest to her. ‘They say abstract painting is “about form, colour, movement”, as if words as loose as these could possibly tell us anything,’ she asserts. Instead, the artist describes her process as one in which she finds or discovers the composition of the work through the patient manipulation of paint on the canvas, working her way to a composition that feels ‘inevitable’. By applying, removing, drawing into and scraping back paint, a ‘found structure’ emerges. This is only possible by becoming accustomed to doubt and uncertainty. ‘Some paintings reveal themselves with great reluctance and only towards the end of their artistic realisation. This also means building time into them,’ she says. ‘This prolonged uncertainty gives the reluctant works a density and depth.’

Colour, like form, is found through the dialogue between multiple ‘protagonists’ on the canvas. Her recent work has focused almost singularly on maroon, which is composed of the primary colours in varying intensities, and white.

Painting wet on wet, she is interested in the transitions of space between the contrasting tones. ‘Colour in my work is often built from the history and erasure of the layers of colours underneath, as I constantly scrape back into the surface to build the image and its content,’ she explains. In the work Into the throat of the snow (2019), a concentration of thickly applied patches of maroon in the upper corner of the canvas is offset by layers of white that reveal the accretions and contours of the layers beneath. Closer examination reveals windows to earlier layers of orange, yellow, blue and patches of raw canvas, all working together to give the painting its form.

The works in her upcoming exhibition at Fox Jensen, Sydney are at a larger scale than previous series thanks to a move to a larger studio. Several works in diptych or triptych allow for the continuation of a thought process across multiple canvases. Tomescu’s work, in its search for form, abhors repetition. The triptych Sewn onto the stones in the sky (2019) shows how she builds compositions by persistently agitating the surface of the work and scraping back into the history of the paint with drawing to let air into the spaces between layers. In creating volume and depth, she allows for light. Quoting Jean Paul Sartre, she says, ‘Fullness is emptiness given direction.’

Conversation with Tomescu is peppered with references to art history, philosophy, literature and poetry. Recent series are named for works by poet Thomas Bernhard and memoirist Elias Canetti, and she regularly rereads favourites by Dostoevsky and Henry James. She explains that literature acts as an anchor point to a reality external to the painting. ‘I turn to literature as a resistance to letting the work slip into a surface illusion of paint,’ she says. Literature and poetry also provide potent touchstones for complexity, subtlety and drama within a compressed frame: a page, a paragraph, a stanza.

Tomescu is returning to the studio to finish the paintings for her show, excited to see her own work with fresh eyes after travelling. ‘When all is well with the work, you just want to do it again, rediscover it in a new form; you want to continue,’ she says. ‘If all is well, the works I left behind will do just that: place me in a space of open possibility, generate new ideas, make me roll up my sleeves and head to work every day, expand, order new canvases, let unexpected relationships occur and turn the show into a living thing.’

Aida Tomescu
5 September – 5 October 2019
Fox Jensen Gallery, Sydney


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