Art | Work of skilled hands | Jill Stowell

LEZLIE Tilley is one of Newcastle’s best-known and most adventurous artists, with a career as formative teacher to generations of students and veteran of dozens of exhibitions here, in Sydney and beyond.

Tilley has woven copper and rubber, made patchwork from wooden tiles, made grids of hundreds of fragments of gravel and used paper for collage and as sculptural material.

She has used branches embedded in plaster and has minutely painted the landscape as well as experimenting in visual essays on colour theory.

Her survey exhibition at Cessnock Regional Art Gallery until May 14, curated by John Barnes, can only hint at this long and productive creative life.

But it brings to prominence several long-term concerns.

Seeing these works hung together makes links and connections clearer between very different disciplines as well as the historical progression.

Most obvious is the passion for process, the dedication to time-consuming techniques with often unlikely materials such as the grids of tiny stones, or the elaborately detailed paintings based on heavily pixelated photos.

Similar landscape-filtered paintings have been shortlisted for many prizes.

As in these imposing paintings with their painstaking rendering of banal scraps of landscape, much of her other work deals in paradox.

The grids of gravel play meticulous and impersonal order against saturations of emotion-rich colour.

The towering patchwork of timber tiles deliberately fractures and fragments its thematic trees.

Type-cast female skills in working with fabric are translated into woven wood and galvanised metal strips.

Paper is cut and punched rather than written or drawn on.

Here is an artist consistently using formidable skills in many mediums to create artworks that subvert our expectations; simultaneously warm and cool, intellectual and deeply felt, perfectly original but invoking the paradigms of the past.

Where will she take her questing imagination next?

Here is an artist consistently using formidable skills in many mediums.

There are hints that amended books will incorporate sound, even music, in a coming exhibition at Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery.

It is a tribute to the volunteer management committee of the gallery that it can undertake a serious survey exhibition so professionally mounted.

But why no printed catalogue?

Artists need the documentation for their records and many visitors like to read the catalogue essay to find out what they have seen.

SPANISH INFLUENCE

WELL-KNOWN potter Anne Gazzard attended a porcelain workshop in Barcelona last year.

Now, at Back to Back Galleries until April 30, she is exhibiting the results of this immersion in the vibrant culture of Spain.

Brightly coloured vessels are cut and flared and a variety of porcelain and earthenware bowls and platters reveal the traditional advantages of strong experienced wheel-form techniques, though hand building is also prominent.

Complementing the masterly ceramics is a group of innovative and immersively coloured paintings by Frances Fussell.

Celebrated for her vital studies of flowers and domestic interiors, this too-rarely-seen artist is now experimenting in more abstract compositions, incorporating cut and collaged canvas, dense in richly coloured paint.

CLASSIC TECHNIQUE

THE past is a resource, but it needs imagination to use it. At Watt Space until tomorrow, Vanessa Lewis continues to find stimulating use for materials and techniques from the paintings and painters of the past.

She is currently investigating tempera, the painting medium where egg provides the binding agent to stick pigment onto a support.

As well as studying it in European panel painting in the Gothic period, she discovers its varied use by painters of the recent past from works in the collection of Newcastle Art Gallery.

Particularly fruitful as models are the coloured stencils of Margaret Preston, with a wreath of banksias we recognise from previous exhibitions by Lewis herself providing an ideal subject.

Practical research for a PhD is less common than it might be.

I look forward to the next investigation that Vanessa Lewis undertakes, combining historical perspective with her own strongly visual creations. Who can forget her previous celebration of blue?

Also at Watt Space until tomorrow are Amy Nash’s photographic essay on ballooning, Momo Hatley-Couper’s ambitious multi-media sculpture and Margaret Kummer’s astonishing kitsch-cabinet of small pre-loved treasures.

What will the archaeologists of the future make of these current triggers to memory and reminiscence?

PASSION FOR PROCESS: Lezlie Tilley's After Fire II 2014.

PASSION FOR PROCESS: Lezlie Tilley's After Fire II 2014.