Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings

Elisabeth Cummings, Mornington, Kimberley, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 175 cm Private Collection. Image courtesy of the artist and King Street Gallery on William
Elisabeth Cummings at Wedderburn, 2023. Photo: Peter Morgan

Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings

“You’ve looked at so much and experienced so much colour, so many shapes, and they excite you… Putting them together and pushing them around, it’s frustrating, it’s difficult often, but it’s exciting.”
Elisabeth Cummings, 2023

The National Art School is proud to present Radiance: the art of Elisabeth Cummings, a spectacular exhibition celebrating one of the School’s most esteemed and exceptional alumni. The artist’s singular visual language and inimitable grasp of colour are celebrated in major works from the last three decades drawn from public and private collections.

Cummings’ paintings are grounded in memory and her experience of place, distilling into visual form her response to her surroundings, including Australia’s unique landforms and ecology, as well as beloved internal spaces. Since the 1970s she has lived and worked in a secluded bushland setting at Wedderburn on Dharawal Country in Sydney’s south-west. Intrepid trips have taken her across the continent to absorb and paint magnificent locations, including the Monaro and Darling regions in NSW, Flinders Ranges in South Australia and the Kimberley in far-north West Australia. She has also travelled and worked extensively overseas.

Born in Meanjin/Brisbane, Cummings began painting as a child before moving to Sydney to attend the National Art School, then East Sydney Technical College. After graduating from NAS in 1957, in 1958 she won the NSW Travelling Scholarship and was based in Florence, Italy for the next decade. Returning from Europe, she moved to Wedderburn, a bushland location on the outskirts of Sydney where she built a mudbrick house and studio as part of an artists’ colony. She also returned to NAS, to teach part-time for more than 30 years from 1969 to 2001.

Cummings has been exhibiting for more than 50 years and her works are represented in major Australian public collections including the National Gallery of Australia (NGA), Art Gallery of NSW and NAS Collection. She was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2011 for her services to the visual arts in Australia. A major retrospective of her work, Elisabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes, toured from Canberra’s Drill Hall Gallery to NSW and Queensland in 2017-18. In 2022, her work featured in Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now Part Two at the NGA.

It is appropriate and inspiring that this exhibition Radiance brings the mature work of Elisabeth Cummings, one of Australia’s most eminent artists, back to Gadigal Country and the splendid heritage surroundings where she studied and taught at the National Art School.

Elisabeth Cummings is represented by King Street Gallery on William.

“Elisabeth Cummings has been referencing the same cycles of terrains for many years: favourite places in the Kimberley and Central Desert, pockets of light within her studio and living space, glimpses and shards of the trees outside her window at dusk or in moonlight. A sense of place is always humming beneath the skin, yet she is the first to state her work is anti-plein air. Her gathering process is well-documented as physical: travelling, drawing, sleeping inside the landscape and simply sitting with it. Yet in its completion, her painting practice rebounds to the conceptual. The ‘not-knowing’ of the studio… the service of fugitive colour rather than obedient form.” Anna Johnson, Elizabeth Cummings monograph, 2017

“Elisabeth Cummings now looks like one of the great painters of our era … there is an amazing energy in the best of [her] work. It’s a quality that seems to have crept up on her over the years, as if age and experience have bequeathed her an ever-greater creative freedom.” John McDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, review for Elisabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes, Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra 2017

“She has a humble and serene countenance, no diva resides in that diminutive frame. But do not be fooled, Elisabeth Cummings is a pre-eminent and indefatigable athlete of the imagination, capable of transforming complexity and doubt into certainty.” Michael Kempson, Cicada Press Director, 2016


Friday 18 August – Saturday 21 October 2023

#Follow us on Instagram