A CONTEXT – Peter Haynes, Director ACT Museums and Galleries, Canberra, 2009
Helen Geier is an artist who is in a constant state of exploration. This exploration is not simply a geographic one, nor indeed in any ways simple. For her art is a dynamic and living entity, an evolving and experiential phenomenon that involves the intellect, the emotions and the artist’s world-view in an ongoing continuum whose expression speaks of all that precedes it in a wholly distinctive aesthetic language.
From the 1980s (indeed from the beginning of her art pracrice in the 1960s), Geier’s art has been characterized by wide-ranging stylistic and thematic expressions. These include references to the natural and built environments in which the pervasive influence of spatial construction within a two-dimensional pictorial configuration is paramount. Images from childhood and the historical past also emerge. More significantly for the artist’s recent work, allusions to cultures other than those of the Western tradition, insinuate themselves into her art. This becomes increasingly evident towards the 1990s, a period for the artist which heralds a markedly sophisticated and cerebral approach to her practice which still holds today.
The early 1990s saw Geier’s pictorial investigations encompass notions of both historical and cultural precedent and contemporary practice and theory. This multiplicity of seeming opposites imbues the work of the decade with an incisive intellectual and aesthetic intelligence rare in contemporary Australian visual arts.
From the late 1990s Geier’s conceptual concerns included ongoing meditations on culturally conditioned perception. Works from this period articulate a collective cultural memory and consciousness and allude to her experience of Asian culture, the Australian landscape and expectations of how one reacts to that landscape in both a physical and intellectual way. The resultant paintings are complex and assert the artist’s acute and finely honed visual intellect.
Geier’s interest in notions of culture – the collisions and elisions of cultures and their visualization – continue to inform her work. In her new work viewers are invited to share in the artist’s experience of the landscape of Central Australia. With Geier, however, it is never just the landscape in a physical sense. Her experience is concurrently natural and cultural. Both are also clothed in a complex amalgam that asserts the coexistence of different ways of seeing and reading.
The artist is concerned with the macrocosm and the microcosm, manifested not only in her philosophical and conceptual approaches to her ostensible motif, but also in the manner in which these are constructed in a visual way. The physical act of making is as important as the intellectual and aesthetic response to the impact of apprehension, which is the moment of seeing a hitherto unknown or culturally, temporally and spatially opaque topos.
Geier absorbs new terrains through an intricate intermeshing which declares the complexity and sophistication of her analyses of her world. The intimacy of domestic women’s work finds a place here alongside the more universal concerns of our impact on the natural environment. Folds (pleats), threads and other devices reflect the topographical and geological incidentals that comprise in various ways our land. Covert yet celebratory allusions to the female form are also present in works where anatomy becomes topography and in some instances, cartography, the latter a more sinister instance of our intrusive presence.
Geier’s landscape is at once externalized and internalized, subjective and objective, material and spiritual. For her the journey and the idea of movement through cultures provide impetus to her creativity. Physical movement in and through a space gives meaning to that place and, for Geier, impels simultaneous intellectual activity. Her visual fusions of the reality of the Australian landscape with her deeply meditative aesthetic strike responsive chords in her viewers. Her ability to confront new possibilities in new ways has always been a characteristic of her art. The pictorial results of these confrontations are thematically exciting and visually challenging.