Essay by Joe Eisenberg
Since colours and forms are well-nigh innumerable, their combination and their influences are likewise unending. The material is inexhaustible.
In 1939 Henri Matisse wrote: ‘I have never considered drawing as an exercise of particular dexterity, rather as principally a means of expressing intimate feelings and describing states of mind.' Helen Eager demonstrates Matisse's view simply but exquisitely in her drawings of geometric abstractions not the least of which are the current explorations of the triangle represented in this exhibition.
Eager is committed to drawing as a medium with a stand alone status. For her it is not merely a step or part of a progression which may lead to a painting. Her drawings are works in and for themselves. The triangle shape which she employs again and again creates tension juxtaposed by combinations of varying colour. The colours are not monotonous and tones are created by graffitti-like scribblings or sgrafitto.
Eager is in total control – the colours, the shapes, the scratches, the variations - very little is left to chance. The viewer, however, is left to resolve and interpret contradictions which arise from the different relationships brought to focus in Eager's drawings.
Less is evidently more as we let our eyes map the lines and work over the paper. We are left with colours and shapes which change ever so slightly but which allow us to ponder the different challenges posed by the artist. All are variations of a constant theme. The components of her work are the engineered clash of shapes which make up triangles, lines which lead to peaks or troughs, and colours which are never left to their own harmonious existence. Each configuration alters only a little from the next and each shape is qualified by her specific selection of colours. All this is done with a quality of meditative thoughtfulness. It is the colours which give meaning to the shapes, and the colours are as controlled as the shapes which bind them.
The changes may be slight, but each work is unique and entices us to elicit a singular response. As well, as a body of work, the drawings offer other possibilities. They can be viewed as much more than geometric explorations and cerebral wanderings or jottings. They can be seen as Eager's view of nature, the physical world, the cosmos and, indeed, our existence, all in the form of metaphor. It is a view shaped by living in inner city Sydney and by an escape to a rural retreat each weekend.
Eager began these explorations after a visit to North America more than a decade ago but she brings little of that country's abstract expressionism into her current work. Hers is more of a search for, and a drive away from, the interiors for which she had become renowned in the 60s and 70s. She now explores the corner of a lounge or the angle of a light shade to its ultimate. She shows little interest in the viewer being able to observe a figurative interior image. She is more concerned about reactions bedded in emotions or feelings.
Her constant explorations provoke questions such as why specific colours? why the constant triangle? why play with colours and create variations by overworking the pastels? Her work can simply be accepted as visual enjoyment, the pure pleasure of looking at almost identical shapes of colour.
The shapes can also be translated into the world of the everyday, the mundane. The angles of colour are like the light beams of a car pointing together into the darkness of the night or a torch beam directing light along a floor. Perhaps they are flat shaped pyramids or the tops of mountains. The triangle symbol can be translated into much within our cognitive world.
It is obvious that Eager is not tiring of exploring the triangle as she never repeats herself. Her colours and tones are different from paper to paper. Her interest is in the aesthetics of what she forms so laboriously and calculatedly. Everything is done with great sensitivity, be it for the creator or the viewer.
Eager's work is seductive and reflective as well as sensual and a little decorative, and it is uniquely hers. Although her simple geometric shapes can be found in both the real and symbolic worlds, her explorations are hers and hers alone. We can easily identify an Eager drawing. It is personal and pure..
Some critics believe that Eager has ‘painted' herself into a corner by drawing the same shape over and over. These critics have perhaps forgotten that, in the tradition of Kandinsky, the artist goes back to the same shape and colour until the possibilities are exhausted.
Eager's work speaks readily to any viewer who cares to look, consider and appreciate. It has taken her time to get here and hopefully she will stay for yet some time and continue to explore her triangle, its boundaries, its colours and the scratches which make up her drawings. The shapes and colours are not yet exhausted.
Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications, New York, 1977, p. 29. (Originally published in 1914 as The Art of Spiritual Harmony. )
Quoted in Jack D. Flam, Matisse on Art, Phaidon, Oxford, 1990, p. 81.