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Sydney, New South Wales, Australia born 1953

  • France 1987-88

The sublime and the ridiculous

1986 Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on marine plywood
Primary Insc: signed and dated l.r. red oil "86/Susan/Norrie"
Dimensions: 239.5 h x 179.5 w cm framed (overall) 2470 h x 1871 w x 97 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1986
Accession No: NGA 86.1131

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Susan Norrie uses both classical and modern senses of memory in her work. In earlier paintings, there is a fascination with memory as repressed presence. Fantastic and grotesque figures are featured; landscape is used as spatial metaphor of psychic states in which the order of conscious logic is disbanded; a personal symbolism is overlayed on historical forms, such as the Gothic or, in a more sustained way, the Baroque. In The sublime and the ridiculous, Norrie was working on a larger scale with some of the ideas which appeared as violent visual notes in Determined, a work of disturbingly visceral immediacy – a highly personal work of memory on the death of the artist’s mother.

The sublime and the ridiculous extended the technical concerns and the intensity of effect achieved in Determined by creating an imaginary landscape which, in its darkness and suggestions of Gothic horror, reflected internal states of confusion and fear. A dark, menacing sea in which small boats register the vulnerability of the subject in a landscape of uncertainty, Gothic ruins, mysterious figures emerging from the shadows or remaining half-light – these are all details which show the painter’s desire to perversely explore corporeal space. The central figure in the painting is a monstrously feminine but headless body, draped in pink lace which is besmirched with red paint, dripping messily down the length of the canvas; the space of the head and upper body is replaced with amorphous shapes, suggesting shells or amoebic protoplasmic substance. The feminine dissolves into the indeterminate matter without boundaries and the subject itself becomes a kind of oceanic void. There is no narrative here which might be referenced, except for one of unimaginable horror and the aftermath of murderous desire.

Helen Grace, 2002.1

1 Edited text from Through a Glass Darkly, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1995.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002