A solemn goodbye to Rosemary Laing

The acclaimed photographer has passed away in a sad week for the Australian art world.

Words: Erin Irwin

The art world has suffered another major loss this month with the passing of Sydney-based artist Rosemary Laing, who has died following a short illness. She was an accomplished artist and photographer, whose practice was defined by a remarkable ability to capture the Australian landscape and psyche.

Originally hailing from Brisbane, she completed degrees in her hometown and Hobart, before graduating with a Master of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in 1996. The artist originally worked with paint, before transitioning to photography and making a splash with her series flight research, 1999-2000.

Laing’s haunting works were deeply influenced by issues that defined Australian society at various points in her practice, her most recent series swansongs navigating through the blackened landscape left behind by the 2019-2020 ‘Black Summer’ bushfires. She described this series as “a love of, an attachment to, homeland or places of belonging … all the memories and histories that have stemmed from that place, and the making of a kind of ‘song’ that combines the enigma of this attachment with a sadness for what has happened in this place”.

Other bodies of work dealt with the failed Republican referendum, immigration policies, Australia’s colonial past, and environmental issues, the artist choosing her sites with care for their history and cultural specificity.

The artist was the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including The Unquiet Landscapes of Rosemary Laing, which debuted in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney before travelling to Odense, Denmark, as well as standout presentations in Japan, Spain, and the USA. Laing was also the subject of an expansive survey presented by the TarraWarra Museum of Art in 2018. She exhibited at the Biennale of Sydney, the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, the Busan Biennale, the Venice Biennale, and the Istanbul Biennale. Her works are represented in a vast number of public Australian collections, as well as the Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia, Spain, the Art Institute of Chicago, USA, North Carolina Museum of Art, USA, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, and Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, USA.

Tolarno Galleries, who represented the artist, stated that “Rosemary produced a truly singular body of work in an international career spanning more than four decades”.

“We will always hold close to us, how inspiring it was to work with such a hugely creative, wonderfully tough, artist”.

Laing leaves behind partner Geoff Kleem, who says “she was much loved and missed terribly”.

This article was posted 31 May 2023.

Image: Rosemary Laing, flight research #5, 1999. C Type photograph, 107 x 240cm. Courtesy: the artist’s estate and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

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