Bridie Gillman THE BEND

18 April to 18 May 2024

path to painting
written by Mitch Donaldson

Hiking is a rewarding but often tedious activity. It’s not always waterfalls, lookouts over scenic vistas, encounters with rare flora and fauna, these things can even be distractions. Often its one foot in front of the other, mind wandering with a kind of meditative endurance, but its about the journey not the destination after all. When we head out into nature in an attempt to escape fast-paced, disconnected but overstimulated lives, we can struggle to quiet our preoccupied minds. Nature’s complexity and abundance can seem as overwhelming as social media feeds and day-to-day anxieties. However, hiking’s slow, physical endeavour and the monotony of a long meandering trail, can subvert our expectations of spectacle and leisure. Surrendering ourselves to the path aligns our bodies with natural rhythms and attunes our senses to the interconnectedness of life.

Painting can be like hiking. At times meditative, but often a sensorial slog. Painters, not for a lack of skill or experience, rarely paint things they think they should or that they expect to see. Painters follow the painting like hikers follow the path, with something unforeseen potentially around every bend. Each brushstroke is a fundamentally novel problem to address. There is certainly a belief you’ll arrive at something worth looking at, but you can’t conveniently step off the path for a peek. You surrender to the process and the best results are always unexpected.

Bridie Gillman’s The Bend is both painting and hiking - paintings about a hike and painting as hiking. Bridie knows the path well. Though her methods eschew planning and embrace chance, they are as familiar to her as taking a step. From many years observing her practice I see how these familiar steps lead Bridie to unexpected places. She is oriented by her materials  – the particular weave of linen with its textural inconsistencies, the absorbency of a ground. Colours are instinctively chosen, mixed and monitored, surface finish is subtly modified. Her gestures are broad but specific - rhythmic scrubbing motions or incidental swipes and stabs. Despite this, I wouldn’t call her approach observational. Working neither from photographs, drawings or life her techniques actively discourage analytical or mimetic looking, more recollection than representation. She approaches her subject and its painting with glances, maybe even eyes closed. Here she feels her way toward a memory, retracing trails afresh on the canvas.

The Bend began with a particular experience the artist had while hiking a trail in Washpool National Park, an area of Gondwana Rainforest in the New England region of NSW, traditionally Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Ngarabal land. Guided by the track and lost in thought, Bridie turned a corner and was unexpectedly awed by the place she’d arrived at. The path can do that – take us out of ourselves – steering us 90 or 180 and completely upending our perspective. Painting can do it too but there’s a degree of trust required, a certainty in the uncertain. Attempting to detail Bridie’s account of this singular moment is ultimately an impossible task on page or canvas. These works are about the unforeseeable and unrepeatable. When the painter recalls such a moment, she walks a new path mediated by memory and the brush but assuredly taking us somewhere we couldn’t imagine. 

'The Bend' is accompanied by a soundscape by Reuben Shafer. 

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