Marion Borgelt: Mind and Matter

By Glen Israel

This survey exhibition covers 15 years of creative endeavour by major Australian artist, Marion Borgelt, demonstrating her innovative involvement in world ideas and personal concerns. Since the early 1990’s it has been intriguing to follow the threads of thought running through her artworks as she refined her concepts whilst widening her expertise with media.

Borgelt’s works speak of ancient memory and symbol systems, of allegory and metaphor and the contemplative world of the present. There is often a play with oppositional elements such as a sense of regularity verses the fluid or the duality of light and dark.

Her artworks appear abstract, before we discover links to nature and culture. This layering of meaning suggests the tension between forces and surfaces. Throughout her artworks references are made to time and change, universal codes from language to life rhythms and lunar cycles. Borgelt has always had an interest in the purity of design and its power to communicate messages. Her work is visually exciting as well as sensitive, inspiring the mind and feelings of the viewer.

Borgelt displays discernment in combining the divergent: of sumptuous organic surfaces, such as the smoothness and translucency of wax overlays, with the order of the abstract symbol. At all times there is an exquisite sense of restraint and control with her meticulous attention to detail and finish. Her works have a luminous rich glowing presence bringing a meditative quality, hinting at the psychological and mythical. When in the presence of her works the viewer feels a heightened perception and a desire to understand the universe more deeply, to speculate about the impact of the laws of nature on our being and their metaphysical and scientific resonance. Borgelt’s art objects entice and puzzle, entrancing the viewer, causing a personal reaction and deep reflection.

One comes to understand and appreciate her art as an extension of her as a person; a deep thinker, someone with an aura of elegance, balance and control. She is an artist who approaches her work in an extremely professional manner as evidenced by her neat white minimalist studio and the consistency of the commissioned work that comes her way.

Marion Borgelt was brought up in the wheat field Wimmera district of rural Victoria, which she attributes to her initial interest in the cyclic nature of the land as evidenced in her early work such as Fire, Wind and Water No 1, of the 1980’s. Her striving to find the structure or essence of nature evolved into symbolic twin shapes of cells splitting, hinting at the beginning of existence in the Voids and Vessels series. These works with their allusive symbols including hints of organic formalism lead into the Bloodlight series and Icons and Emblems series beginning in 1995 and continuing through to 2001 in which Borgelt introduced three dimensional shaped canvases and created tension by dividing and splitting the image. With these works the refined, evocative surfaces and patterns suggest an abstract mysticism and are an expression of the power of colour to create an incandescent surface. Bold areas of red are carefully blended into black on a textural surface, intriguing in its mastery of gradation as well as its optical effects. There is an illusionary depth in the blackness, suggestive again of a void or transcendental opening up to primal memory. Yet they also hint at the rationality of the Modernist grid. This intersection between simplistic symbolic shapes and complex thought is the essence of Marion Borgelt’s art.

Borgelt investigates the symbols, patterns, emblems and designs of communication in such work as Imbol Painting: Coptic, Celtic, Kubic No.1, exhibited in the 1998 Tapestry of Detail exhibition. These motifs reveal links with different civilizations and religions that began before language systems. Her interest lies in the capacity of these interlaced forms and shapes to reference memories of ancient cultures. Through her weaving together of these patterns and symbols such as the concentric circle, the lozenge and spiral she creates a response to our contemporary culture whilst recognising the input from the past.

The interest in symbols and motifs continues in the Primordial Series of 1997 and the Hourglass Suite, Bottled Histories, 2000 which consists of small artworks that exist as pairs, complementing each other but having a life of their own as painting and sculptural items, both sensitively transformed with wax and paint. They combine the constructed with the organic world and also allude to past cultures such as an interlaced Celtic symbols, and the religion cross motif. They are also suggestive of nature and the beginning of matter; a cocoon suggesting a life within, a maze or lozenge. There is a sense of mystery and depth created by the patterns and surfaces below the translucent surface. Each work is perfectly symmetrical with exquisite patterns, fine lines and subtle shading. They are delicate precious objects, conveyors of messages and meaning with an allure that works on the viewer’s inner psyche.  “I wish to express the power within the intimate scale, the ability to leave impressions on the memory,” explains Borgelt.

Borgelt easily swings between two and three dimensional expression, at various times this has taken the form of transforming found objects as with the bottles of Hourglass Suite, Bottled Histories, 2000 or with her Orchestre des Promeneurs, 2002 where she has playfully chosen a grouping of the humble male shoe. Here she synthesises the metaphor of ancient symbols and iconic patterns with the transformation of the mundane leather object with wax and paint.

The Personae Suite is another example of her sculptural arrangements. They continue the idea of the vessel, explore the duality of surface in the use of dark grained wood and her bright lustrous red inner wax coating and are thus a link through their materiality and form to concepts expressed in other works.

A return to the painted optical effects seen in early bloodline work and the use of interlocked pattern of the labyrinth works, yet in a refined version can be found in the Liquid Light Series 2004-2009. These works involve animated surfaces created by precisely cut, twisted and pinned strips of canvas in sequences and intervals that reveal an underlay of another colour. Because the “twist” creates a sculptural relief effect, the amount of underlying colour shown varies as you move, the surface taking on its own mesmerising rhythmic pulse. A rippling energy is suggested below the surface, alluding to an inner world. We search for an underlying order or logic within its complexity similar to scientific investigations into the natural world; such as the ebb and flow of tides, the measurement of time and chaos theory. They speak of change and transformation, the forms fluid yet mathematically exact. The elliptical shape can be interpreted on various levels, appearing more scientific than her earlier natural work referencing cocoons, but still having associations with an eye, the sun or moon. They also speak of more abstract or universal symbols such as orbs, spheres or voids. We see here a subtle shift from natural concerns to more universal and scientific notions. The sense of tension and subtle movement is suggestive that our life is in a constant state of flux, yet the effect is surprisingly calming of the soul. They are intellectual visual puzzles.

At first glance the Strobe Series 2007-2009 paintings give the illusion that they have been airbrushed or spray painted but actually Borgelt is displaying her considerable painting skill, gently blending colours with wide brushes creating an optical illusion. They are displaying a recurrence of the painting techniques of the Bloodlight series. The surface pulses with an energy suggestive of surging tidal currents, heart beats, veins throbbing, electric pulses. All of which record the passing of time. They have an illusive quality with their subtle layering or blending of colour, some areas being translucent, while others quite solid. In this series we see an extension of Borgelt’s interest in the power of colour, her earlier signature red and later pale lemon being joined by bold combinations of lime green, purple, rich yellow and pink. Borgelt explores the soft vibrancy of colour as well as the jarring effect of unusual combinations. These works are exotic in the richness of their surfaces, alluring in their darkness as well as their luminosity whilst creating a sense of energy. The Strobe series revisits the exploration of optical effects of The Liquid Light series, only expressed in a different, bolder painterly way.

Although one can see underlying links in Borgelt’s oeuvre each interpretation has a unique expression or communication due to the choice of media. Her more recent Lunar Warp, Lunar Circle, Tsukimi Series 2007-2009 epitomise some of the duality concepts Borgelt has investigated over the years. We become aware of the slow movement and the power of the forces of the lunar cycle as a mediator of our day, the tides, our emotions and rhythms. The strong contrast of black against the sheen of the surface entices with symbolic meaning. With Lunar Warp, each “circle” creates a unique shadow according to how much the inner circle is bent (the height of the relief) and the position of the viewer.  Although Borgelt may repeat a concept she constantly strives for new, exquisite and alternate means of expression.

It is thus the choice, arrangement and refinement of materials that give these works their visual allure and symbolic resonance.

Through such a survey of 15 years of Marion Borgelt’s art practice we can decipher her intention to explore “ the power of the visual to reach an audience,” whilst creating a “purity within its own level of aesthetic.” She is an artist who has developed her own unique poetic language displaying her superb technical skill and strong sense of design, adapting this vocabulary to delicate small objects, to large bold canvases, sculptural installations and large scale commissioned works both for interiors and within the landscape. Mind and matter indeed.

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