GALLERY MANAGER, GALLERY GABRIELLE PIZZI
It’s standard practice that galleries exhibiting work from Aboriginal art centres give emerging talent a spot in a group show before attempting anything more substantial. It was a sign of confidence that Melbourne’s Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi skipped this step and gave Lisa Uhl a solo exhibition in 2013.
“Lisa was suggested and we loved the work. It was a very successful show and it’s taken off from there,” says gallery manager Rod McLeish. This quarter will be her second solo show with the gallery and it’s expected to include around 20 works. Uhl mostly works on a square format of around 120 by 120 centimetres, usually priced around $3,300, but has produced larger pieces 120 by 240 centimetres.
“Basically all the paintings are about the same thing, which is the desert walnut tree,” McLeish says. “It’s a tree that she hasn’t seen. It comes to her from a story that her family told her about. In her own mind it’s not an imaginary place, it’s an actual place, but she paints it from her mind’s eye.”
McLeish says the simple compositions of Uhl’s paintings, with the straight lines of the tree trunks and the circular motif representing the leaves and branches, are secondary to what Uhl can do with colour. He sees the tree motif as a “form to hang a painting off. She’s got this simple structure that she uses and it can provide variety – she zooms in and zooms out – but really it just gives an opportunity to play around with colour and simple compositional structures. And she seems to get it right. There’s a heat, there’s a fantastic complementary quality in the colours. She really rarely puts a foot wrong in terms of these combinations, and they’re not necessarily predictably combinations either.”
MANAGER, MANGKAJA ARTS RESOURCE AGENCY
“The main attraction of Lisa Uhl’s work is her use of colour. She’s quite clever in her tonal work and the layering of colour,” says Belinda Cook, who sees Uhl at the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency almost every day.
Although Uhl is a regular at the centre, Cook says each work can take quite a long time to finish because of the way she layers paint. “She might have one or two on the go. She’ll work on a really big one and have a small one when she gets tired. She doesn’t necessarily paint everyday but she’ll come into the centre and be around the other artists.”
She believes the way Uhl repeats the tree motif “reinforces her story and her connection to her country. It was a story that was passed to her by her aunty Dolly Snell who raised her. When you see them together, they often work quite closely together. She’ll paint near Dolly. They both work with really vibrant colours and repetition, not just layering paint and colours, but the same stories … Dolly’s told her which stories she can paint and guided her in that.
“They’ll even work together on what colours she’s going to use. She’s learnt a lot of her skill and her style from Dolly. It’s that similar thing of layering colours over and over again on the canvas. The resulting images are very different but the way they actually paint is quite similar.”
Cook has been watching Uhl’s career take off over the past few years. “I hope that continues and I hope she continues to get the attention she’s been getting and the respect as a major artist. She is quite young but the maturity in her work is quite evident and her use of colour is quite mature.” She adds: “Ideally we’d like to see her do well and experiment further with her story. Our plan is to hopefully get her back out to the country herself and be around trees and find some more inspiration with her family out there.”
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 70, OCT – DEC 2014.