Looking at Art - March

<strong>Marina Strocchi</strong><br/>Born 1961, Melbourne<br/>Resides Alice Springs, Northern Territory<br/><br/><i>Brancusi Palms </i>2003<br/>Acrylic on paper, 75 x 56.5cm<br/>Purchased through the CDU Foundation for the CDU Art Collection, 2010 - CDU1852<br/>Image © and courtesy the artist

Marina Strocchi

Marina Strocchi graduated with a Bachelor of Art from Swinburne University, Melbourne, in the early 1980s. She worked as a graphic designer and photographer during that decade, travelling abroad for extended visits to Florence, Paris, Mexico and in 1990, India. In the mid-to-late 1980s, she was engaged as a community arts worker and screen printer of banners and posters, eventually setting up her own small design and textile printing business. 

Strocchi was closely associated with the Roar Studio (Fitzroy) group of Melbourne Neo-Expressionist painters and shared their aesthetic allegiance to the CoBrA group, art brut, primitive art and contemporary Australian Indigenous art – in particular the Papunya Tula Artists’ painting movement. With founding member Wayne Eager Strocchi went on to establish the Ikuntji Art Centre at Haasts Bluff (1992) in Central Australia, convening the first combined Haasts Bluff/Kintore women’s painting workshops in the Desert in 1994. In 1999, she was a Field Officer for Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd.  Between 2000 and 2003, as tutor and lecturer in Art and Craft at Batchelor Institute in Alice Springs, she delivered painting workshops to Indigenous artists at Titjikala, Amata and Yuendumu, and later at Wingellina and Kalka.

In 2006, Strocchi and Eager were artists-in-residence at Northern Editions Printmaking Studio, where they undertook a fortnight’s intensive training in lithography and etching.  Strocchi’s small-scaled and elegantly condensed etching Brancusi Palm 2006, created during this workshop, was “a post-script” to two earlier paintings and several drawings executed in Darwin three years earlier – including Brancusi Palms 2003.

In 2003, Strocchi and Eager paid an extended visit to Darwin, residing at the CSIRO Darwin Laboratories, Berrimah. Strocchi was captivated by native cycads on the compound and their ancient lineage, as seed plants with fossil records about 300 million years old that “pre-dated dinosaurs”. She was aware of the plants’ presence in Central Australia, in locations such as Glen Helen Gorge. Yet they also brought to mind Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s (1876-1957) Endless Column series of sculptures, which she had admired during a visit to his reconstructed studio at the Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris. These iconic and visually elegant emblems of early European Modernism synthesised several tendencies and predilections, which resonated with Strocchi: an essentialist, abstract approach to three-dimensional forms, a sensitive use of materials and an affinity with the direct, robust craftsmanship of primitive and folk art carving.

Strocchi describes “the graphic nature” of palms as “easy prey for drawing”.  In Darwin, following close and sustained observation, she felt compelled to attribute human characteristics to plant forms such as giant cycads.  In her words: “I might see a palm tree and it will make me laugh because it is comical or lyrical or whimsical – or sad, or there is something poignant about the structure of it.” 

With an astute eye and the emotional verve of a travelling artist, Strocchi has captured the cycads’ basic botanical features in this work, yet reserved the right to abstract their sculptural shape and reinvent their swaying, “stacked wedge” appearance. In the spirit of Roar, Brancusi Palms 2003 is part cheek and part homage to an early master of Modernism, prizing the exercise of an artist’s creative imagination over a desire to emulate appearances. The work is also a reminder that in Northern Australia, an “endless column” may become a phalanx of cycads – just as magnetic termite mounds are named and known as “cathedrals”.

Marina Strocchi has participated in numerous group exhibitions since 1990 and has held 18 solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Darwin and Alice Springs since 1998. Her work is represented in major public and corporate collections nationally and in many private collections in Australia, Europe and the USA. She has been the recipient of several awards and prizes and was a finalist in the 2010 Wynne Prize. Her etching Mystery Train 2007 is the graphic emblem for CDU’s Northern Institute.  Brancusi Palms 2003 is the first painting by Strocchi acquired for the CDU Art Collection, which also holds 15 examples of her prints (etchings and lithographs).

Anita Angel, Curator CDU Art Collection & Art Gallery

3 March 2011

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