Rosalie Gascoigne Metropolis 1999

Rosalie Gascoigne

New Zealand, Australia 1917-1999
Gascoigne’s art career started late. She had no formal art training and first exhibited in 1974 at the age of 57. Moving from New Zealand in 1943, her new environment – the stony terrain of Mount Stromlo and wheat belt of Monaro – were crucial to her art. She often used materials, whether natural or manufactured, she had scrounged from the local countryside, which bore signs of their time in the land. Her study of ikebana also influenced her compositional approach and her understanding of her work as largely about ‘pleasuring the eye’. ‘I am not making pictures,’ she said, ‘I make feelings’.

Metropolis 1999

‘I know I can’t draw but I can arrange,’ said Gascoigne. In this work, she has cut up retro-reflective road signs, which she often used in her later works, and assembled them in an overlapping grid. Rather than giving us a sense of order, the effect is one of visual overload and disjunction. The words and the flow and meaning of language are distorted.

It’s an unusually large-scale work for this artist but the size is fitting for an assemblage that suggests both the sprawl and the claustrophobia of a built-up city centre, while also reminding us of the ad-hoc nature of country road signs.

People and places

The first cars, driven by steam, arrived in Australia in the 1890s. At the very end of the 19th century, some of the first petrol-driven cars were being manufactured here. By 1914, there were an estimated 37,000 cars and trucks in the country, most of which were imported. With them came dangers. In 1925, when records started, 700 deaths were caused by motor vehicles (12 per 100,000 people). To improve safety, standardised road signs were adopted by all states and territories (except Tasmania) in 1927, and by 1928 the first traffic lights had been installed in Melbourne.