Not long ago I wrote an appreciation of Elisabeth Cummings here (see Elisabeth Cummings: Slow Art, March 24th 2014). The theme of the piece echoed comments by art critic John McDonald, who has repeatedly championed Elisabeth’s work and expressed dismay at its failure to receive the acknowledgment it deserves. He expressed astonishment that her work had not been included in the NGA show of 200 years of Australian landscape painting headed for London in 2013 (SMH, January 21 2012). She had also been excluded from the Wynne Prize more than once, although that was not the case in 2013 when her Sunrise, the Kimberley out-glowed everything else on the walls, although it did not win. Imants Tiller’s Namatjira was a puzzling although not unworthy choice.
When I sent my 2014 post to Elisabeth, a personal friend for decades, she protested mildly at my emphasis on the scandalous lack of critical recognition and my reference to her being “overlooked”. She was right to do so. If certain precious art-world critics and habitues had nothing to say about an older woman landscape artist … Excuse me? A what? … many others especially collectors have no doubt about her worth. Her paintings (and prints) sell reliably from her long-time gallery (King on William) at show after show, some at astronomical prices for a living artist.
Over the past couple of years a new appreciation of her work has become widespread. By late 2015 you could hardly move in fine art circles in Sydney without someone mentioning her name. She was being described as “Australia’s greatest living female landscape artist”. At a lively discussion around Luke Sciberras’ Hill End diner table in October the question was raised whether or not the “female” descriptor could be omitted. Hmmm. Luke, her semi-protege, who could reasonably think the title should be his, didn’t know how to respond. This year she and Luke collaborated on a stunning show in Hong Kong, responding to that spectacular Asian city with the same kind of delicacy and intelligence as she had long shown for remote Australia’s dry creek-beds and scrubby sandhills.
Such a tragedy that this exhibition will never be seen in Australia! Most of the pieces have been snapped up by private collectors and will rarely if ever emerge again in their lifetimes.(“Flying Goose Hill” at the Nock Art Foundation, Hong Kong, October 17 – November 14)
Now she is named alongside John Olsen among Australia’s greatest living artists, along with Cressida Campbell, Peter Kingston and Kevin Connor. The summer exhibition (Mosman, Manly and S.H Ervin galleries), offers 140 paintings and drawings celebrating Sydney as a source of artistic inspiration. The SMH arts and books writer Linda Morris hails the group as the living successors of Brett Whitely, Lloyd Rees, Grace Cossington Smith and Margaret Preston.
Both Connor and Kingston have had recent major exhibitions in Sydney while Cummings’ current King on William show ( until 19th December) was an astonishing record of recent work and almost sold out by the opening night.
It is so wonderful to see Elisabeth moving to this level of recognition. She has been utterly consistent in her vision and commitment over her entire career as an artist but the development of her work has been powerful beyond expectation over the past ten or so years. She shuns fame and all the hoop-la but we should be so grateful for everything she has offered not to mention what is yet to come.