Menzies Art Brands



This late work by Rosalie Gascoigne was created in 1998, a time when the artist was at the height of her creative powers, and only a year before she passed away at the age of 82. Gascoigne famously rose to prominence later in life than most. She was well into her 50s when she commenced her art career in earnest, and promptly received critical acclaim for her striking and nuanced assemblages that speak so eloquently of the experience of place.
Gascoignes work is heavily informed by the rural landscape surrounding Canberra known as the Monaro district, where the artist lived for many years. She moved to this region in 1943 with her astronomer husband Ben Gascoigne, when he took up a post at the remote Mt Stromlo observatory. It was in this rural location that she raised her children a housewife in the 1940s and 50s living in relative isolation. During this time Gascoigne become intimately familiar with her environment, thus it is not surprising that when she turned her attention to making art these surroundings permeated her creative output.

Rather than translating the landscape through literal means or figurative pictorial representation, Gascoigne developed a formal and abstracted response to it through her inventive assemblages and sculptures. The colours, rhythms, and shapes of the bushland surrounding Canberra became the building blocks of her visual language, as she states

I look for the eternal truths in nature, the rhythms, cycles, seasons, shapes, regeneration, restorative powers, spirit. Im showing what I believe to be interesting and beautiful.1

The countryside also supplied the raw materials for her art, as Gascoigne would regularly scour the area for discarded objects such as old crates and wooden pallets, iron, feathers, and retro-reflective road signs like those used to construct the present work. Gascoigne first began making artwork from these road signs in the late 1980s, embarking on the labour intensive process of collecting, cleaning and cutting the tin signs, and then reassembling them on plywood substrates to create finished pieces.

In many of her retro-reflective sign works, text is a strong feature however, certain works such as Banana Yellow appear as purely abstracted arrangements. Vici MacDonald, author of the 1998 monograph on Gascoigne has identified a group of late retro-reflective sign works completed between 1997 1999, well after her initial forays into working with this material during the 1980s.2 All of these later pieces, including the present work, share a reductive, almost minimalist aesthetic, with a staccato smattering of heavy black loops and lines against the classic road-sign yellow.

Pared back and repetitive, Gascoigne summarises and reconfigures the curves and lines of the countryside through a language of truncated glyphs. The overall simplicity of design in Banana Yellow allows the rough aesthetic and weathered texture of the materials to become amplified. Coupled with this, the luminous nature of the retro-reflective material is a prominent feature. She says of her sign work I do want it to sometimes flash at you, as road signs do, and then go sullen, then flash, like a living thing3

This liveliness is something to be experienced in the flesh, as Vici MacDonald notes, these works have real physical presence in a room that oscillates from haunting glow to harsh glare.4 In Banana Yellow Gascoigne incorporates the transient effects of shifting light into a rigorous formal approach, and in doing so creates an evocation of place that is both hard-edged
and experiential.

1. Hawley, J., A late developer, Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend, 15 November 1997, p.44
2. MacDonald, V., Rosalie Gascoigne: A Haunting Afterglow, Artorbit, 9 April, 2012 (
3. Gascoigne, R., interview with Ewen McDonald, interview transcript, 1988, p.6, RG Archive
4. MacDonald, V., Rosalie Gascoigne: A Haunting Afterglow, Artorbit, 9 April, 2012 (

Marguerite Brown (MA ArtCur)

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