Submitted Review

Isobel Rayson ‘Where We Go’

  • Boom Gallery • Geelong

  • 03 November—27 November 2021

  • Sally Groom • Published 11 November 2021

  • Commissioned Article

‘Rayson integrates daily immersion in her surrounds, and intuitive repetitive mark-making in her process-driven practice.’

Isobel Rayson’s exhibition ‘Where We Go’ at Boom Gallery in Geelong from 4-28 November, is a compact group of framed woodblock carvings.

In a technique which is close to sgrafitto, the artist has meticulously carved black-painted woodblocks with fine-gauge chisels, revealing the wood below the paint layer. In this body of work, Rayson achieves several beguiling optical affects in her austere compositions, through variable depth and placement of the carved lines and hatches.

In an artist statement the artist describes her practise as originating in daily wanderings on the farm where she lives in Carwoola, outside Canberra. Sketches and photographs of the patterns, textures or repetitive marks she observes on these walks are abstracted and simplified in her carvings.

In works like ‘Transition’ the optical effect is destabilising, with the viewer’s eye constantly moving between the ‘positive’ relief and ‘negative’ intaglio fields. Rayson achieves this by the consecutive arrangement of similar-width black relief and lighter-coloured carved vertical lines. She then uses the opposite arrangement in narrow upper and lower horizontal bands.

A shimmering quality is achieved in works like ‘Fracture’ which appears to reference swathes of tall grass. This effect is achieved by arranging a series of fine and slightly wavering vertical lines in a parallel composition covering the whole picture plane.

The composition of ‘Remember That Day At the Coast?’, like many other works in the exhibition, is in the form of an irregular grid, with horizontal bands of more or less deeply carved vertical hatches. This not only produces the effect of lighter and darker bands, but also creates an illusion of receding and projecting spaces.

In other works, the carved lines are like drawings of objects floating off to the side of the picture plane. In ‘Made Me Think of You’, for example, an image of a woven net or web emerges out of the black background. Rayson uses more finely-carved lines in the right-hand section of the design and slightly broader lines in the left-hand section, giving the illusion of darker and lighter shades of black.

Instead of using the painted woodblock in a traditional way, as a stage in the production of an illustrative print such as a wood engraving, the woodblock, in Rayson’s practise, becomes the artwork itself in an interesting slippage. It is possible to see parallels in her work, however, with the distilled graphic mark-making in the prints and drawings of G.W. Bot, which convey a similarly deep relationship with the country around Canberra.

Isobel Rayson integrates daily immersion in her surrounds, and intuitive repetitive mark-making in her process-driven practise. These conditions have opened up possibilities for the emergence of patterns and rhythms as she works. Her carvings convey Rayson’s strong connection to the country on which she lives and works.  Rayson’s highly developed technique and understanding of the visual potential of her medium has produced an engaging and dynamic body of work.