Flash art, 1987, is an early example of the style with which Rosalie Gascoigne’s art is often identified. A wall-based assemblage constructed from retro-reflective road signs, it dates from the period when she first began experimenting with this distinctive material. Cut up, rearranged and composed in a grid formation, the scratched and weathered panels and fragments of disconnected text form a striking abstract field of flickering letters against a bright yellow ground. This work exemplifies Gascoigne’s poetic use of found objects and, in particular, those containing text, and her interest in the expressive possibilities of the grid. The open structure and repetitive patterns evoke a sense of expansiveness and space, while the weather-beaten surface with gestural smears of tar connects it to a particular idea of place. The title of this work evokes the light-reflecting properties of the material itself and its remarkable ability to shimmer and glow, but could also be understood as a self-conscious reference to the art world and the international contemporary art journal of the same name, with which Gascoigne was undoubtedly familiar.
Gascoigne’s deep affinity with the environment lay at the heart of her art. Inspired by the harsh rural landscape surrounding Canberra, her home of more than fifty years, she often foraged for materials throughout its parched terrain. Corrugated iron, feathers, worn linoleum, weathered fence palings, wooden bottle crates, shells and dried plant specimens are some of the objects that she collected to incorporate in her works. However, it is the brightly coloured orange and yellow retro-reflective road signs that her art has most commonly been associated with. Salvaged from the roadside or from rural tips and depots, it is a material that she continued to employ until the end of her career. Through a poetic reconfiguration of materials that were once part of the landscape itself, Gascoigne sought to transform her deeply felt experiences of the dry, light and spacious environment that inspired her, thus capturing a distinctive sense of place in her works.
Although she came to art late in life, first exhibiting when she was in her fifties, Gascoigne rose to prominence quickly in the 1970s and early 1980s. Within years of her first solo exhibition at Canberra’s Macquarie Galleries in 1974, the National Gallery of Victoria mounted the exhibition Survey 2: Rosalie Gascoigne in 1978, her first solo exhibition at a public institution. In 1982 she became the first woman artist to be selected to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.
The NGV acquired Flash art in February 2010, following its inclusion in the major retrospective exhibition Rosalie Gascoigne at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia in 2008–09. An important work by one of Australia’s most celebrated artists, Flash art is a greatly valued addition to the NGV collection.
Jane Devery, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).