Optical Allusion

By Betsy Brennan

Vogue Living September/October 2007 (P65, 237)

Lunar circles and warped space sending ripples through time: Marion Borgelt’s stunning new artworks reflect the cosmic order of a constructed universe.

Like the moon affects the tides, the work of Marion Borgelt plays on our vision in an almost physical way. It draws us in, moves us around, reveals different outcomes to those we expect.

The circular painting Nothing is Invisible shows itself on closer look to be third dimensional, sloping to a crater painted as red as a cardinal’s robe with a bowl sitting in its centre. A ring of spheres turns out to be, not fragile glass filled with swirling mist, but solid and layered, each ball weighing a hefty seven kilograms.

Follow a canvas’s broad blurry stripes to their conclusion (black turning to purple and green as we gaze) and they suddenly ripple and curve towards us. These works (“I just decided it’s time to explore painting again”), are not air-brushed but done by hand with broad brushes.

“I like the interaction between the viewer and the art” she says. “I like to introduce something that’s a little curious, so you look into the work. The rhythm in a painting is unpredictable. The layers inside the glass spheres give them depth or worlds within, which is the whole thing about the universe: there are so many worlds within worlds.”

Colour is minimal, but can be gorgeous: a blue as deep as space (“It’s a very balancing colour, and I’ve just come to it at this stage of my life”). The red is cadmium red light, “Probably the most permanent red you can get. It’s a good red to use in our light conditions – but it’s heavy metal, you can’t get it on your skin.”

The artworks in her top-floor studio, a one-time hayshed in Sydney’s Waterloo, are for ‘Flux & Permanence’, her current exhibition at Sherman Galleries and the last she will have there before the gallery closes at the end of the year.

“I’m exploring the idea that everything in our lives is in constant state of flux,” she says. “We try to find a still point in a turning world.” Today she is preoccupied with time, space and light and the science we construct to deal with such phenomena: “They’re all part and parcel of coming to terms with the essential properties of the universe. They’re very intertwined. Fancy measuring space and time through the speed of light!”

She has never restricted her palette of materials, working in beeswax and bitumen, papier-mache, wood, stainless steel, marble, whatever the concept calls for. “I trained as a painter, but the question in my mind is always ‘what sort of materials can I use to express this idea?’ I really want all the works to have life, but the medium I use will determine what kind of life it has.” She has applied beeswax to shoes and painted them with symbols, and grown an ephemeral corn maze. But overall, and a large part of the allure, is her insistence on impeccable detail and finish.

Borgelt works often with others, sometimes for years, on a project. There’s an Italian joiner whose manipulation of timber is a lost art. Recently she collaborated with an art glass studio on the island of Murano in Venice, Italy, probably the first Australian artist to do so.

The glass works came about from a chance meeting with Adriano Berengo, who invited her to his Murano art glass studio.  “I had just received a grant from the Australia Council to explore other materials in my work, so it was truly serendipitous,” she says. One result is Venetian Tsukimi (after the Japanese moon-watching ceremony) expressing the phases of the moon from full to new moon, a theme she has explored before in stainless steel and in marble. “There are three aspects incorporated in this suite that cannot be done in Australia. First, they cannot do solid black in these quantities unless they have a black crucible; secondly, they don’t have the formula for iridescence, and thirdly they can’t fuse the sand to the glass in quite this manner, for that beautiful surface that it gives. There are secrets the Muranese have that have been handed down through the families for centuries.

Borgelt would undoubtedly be on any Australia curator’s Top Ten list; what is it that drives her explorations, that nourishes her vision and inventiveness? “The chicken and the egg!” she says with a laugh. “The fruitfulness of creativity rests as an unanswered question within the artist. The most important quality an artist possesses is imagination. You have to keep it healthy, you have to exercise it. Imagination is the seed field from which everything grows.”

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