Words: Michael Do
New Zealand-born, Australia-based artist Ella Sutherland is interested in shades of feeling. Working across a number of mediums, including print making, painting and installation, Sutherland has piqued the interest of art world insiders attentive to her research-led practice. Having arrived at visual art after a career of book making, Sutherland has maintained an interest in forms of communication, printed matter and language — using these lenses to explore queer histories, global politics, literature and art history. The process of creating and birthing literature is woven into Sutherland’s worldview, colouring her projects with a sense of the literary, like that in her first commercial exhibition, FOLDS, at Sumer, Tauranga, New Zealand.
Here, Sutherland worked her wide-ranging references and interests, focussing and sharpening them into a pinnacle. The result is a suite of hard-edged abstraction paintings full of reserve and mystery. The series comprises resonant and captivating tones of arsenic greens, marine blues, oxblood reds and warm creams that simmer together. Colour is carefully laid and contrasted to create forms that recall columns, structures, doorways, the folds of paper and the slinky curves of human forms. In explaining the works, Sutherland notes that FOLDS is the culmination of references including 20th-century architect and furniture designer, Eileen Gray; American artist and writer Djuna Barnes, best known for her cult classic of lesbian fiction, Nightwood (1936); and the history of architectural columns. Woven together in subtle and unexpected ways, each panel is a visual flourish rather than a straightforward narrative. Always implied and suggested, we see glimpses of these texts: a turn of phrase in Nightwood, the tubular steel curves of Gray’s E1027 table, or ribbing of a Doric column. This sleight of hand is the hallmark of Sutherland’s practice, and gives the work its potency.
In discussing her future plans, Sutherland is currently embarking on new bodies of work for exhibition in New Zealand. Expanding on the ideas of FOLDS, this new work for multiple New Zealand institutions continues Sutherland’s explorations of space and its conceptual dimensions. With a dual institutional solo in Australia also in the works, it is clear that FOLDS is only the first of many exciting things to come.
Featured image: Ella Sutherland, Living-room D’or, 2020. Acrylic on linen, 91.5 x 122cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sumer, Tauranga.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 95, January to March 2021.