“Looking at this now, it makes perfect sense!” laughs the painter Aida Tomescu. She nods at a hulking canvas with thick, sun-coloured brushstrokes that make you suspect that it might be a millisecond away from bursting into flames. “I reworked and introduced elements, scraping back and forth, back and forth. The blue brought in the red, the red brought in the yellow, the yellow brought in the orange. I choose painting because you can say something that you can’t in any other media. This quality doesn’t have a name and you can’t understand it analytically. Paintings can be about beauty but it’s a beauty that always comes with tension and power.”
Tomescu is standing in front of Eyes in the Heat, the titular work in a new exhibition that will open at Sullivan+Strumpf. Last week, the artist – who migrated to Sydney from Bucharest, Romania in 1980, and who is considered one of Australia’s leading abstract painters – turned 60. It seems the passage of time has been emboldening. Her new paintings – large-scale pieces that use cadmium oranges and joyful yellows to evoke a flurry of light and movement – are a study in late-summer radiance. They’re also her most cohesive body of work to date.
“Some of my paintings take up to two-and-a-half to three years to complete, but this year, I experienced this intense creative flow that brought all the pieces together,” explains Tomescu, whose past accolades include the Wynne Prize, Sulman Prize and Dobell Prize for Drawing. “Each piece that I painted promised something and retained a kind of poetry. The forms that emerged became like fictitious identities that play off each other.”
Tomescu has held more than 30 solo shows during her career, and says her artistic evolution has hinged on her ability to let go.
“I started off as a figurative painter and when I came to Australia and tried to reconnect with still life and landscape, it felt like an old language that I’d left behind,” she smiles. “When I was an art student at 17, I never would have dreamed that I would be doing the kind of painting I’m doing now. I’ve realised that I needed to focus on the experience of painting, not the result. And it’s liberating to know that this can take years.”
Eyes in the Heat runs at Sullivan + Strumpf from November 7–28, 2015.