Helen Eager Survey 1999
Watters Gallery, Sydney
New England Region Art Gallery, Armidale
Essay By Christopher Hodges
Helen Eager began her artistic journey making lithographs at the South Australian School of Art. These earliest works took as their subject interior spaces and domestic objects. She retained these basic elements for the next fifteen or so years. During this period Eager made drawings paintings and prints in which chairs, cups and tables took centre stage. Geoffrey Legge in a notable essay at the time referred to the temporarily absent occupant. Indeed Eagers' scenes possessed a life, a sense that her art captured a moment in an ongoing adventure. Rooms infused with light through windows or parted curtains informed us of Eager's pleasure in the power of light and the colours it could unleash.
In 1988 Eager was resident at the Greene St Studio in downtown New York. This was to be a turning point in her art . Here the interior of the studio provided her subject and the loft space afforded the opportunity for huge works. Inspired by the artistic freedom of the city and some major exhibitions, Eager began to gradually focus on a window partly obscured by a television, a chair and a heater. This image was to become a key, a precursor to change.
A painting made after returning to Australia (From an Old House in America) captures this point. While recognizable elements clearly visible. This is an important painting for it signals the turning point in Eagers development. From here there was no turning back and Eager's next works were taken directly from this frame. In retrospect the viewer can define the rectangle of the TV, against the window, but now the work is not a subject painting. Eager has moved into ‘abstraction'.
This was a move that left many of her greatest supporters behind. They were for the most part comfortable with her rich surfaces, subtle washes and dramatic line, beautiful colours and light filled spaces, as long as the were recognizable. Now that there was no evident subject many floundered.
The development we see in this survey should be seen in this light. Eager, always a private artist was now an isolated artist and the work she produced reflects the intimate refinement of an artist working alone.
© C. Hodges 1999