The exhibition verbiage tells us that Nike Savvas, born in 1964, is one of the most significant Australian artists of her generation, but she is not well known in England so it is good to have the chance to see her work here in Leeds art gallery for the first time. It is her first show here in Britain for ten years. There is both a collection of recent work and a large site specific installation which has been made especially for the gallery, which gives the exhibition its title, Liberty and Anarchy.
It’s a wonderfully accessible exhibition, especially for someone who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, owned a spirograph, and remembers the time when there was a fashion for string art kits and pulsating “psychedelic” images were everywhere. Nike Savage has been called an “installation mathematician” and the open and closed sculptural forms which she has made are a collection of large three dimensional shapes, wooden frames strung with coloured thread, making a wonderful juxtaposition of severe straight edges, elegant curves and repeating patterns. They are light and airy and beautiful to look at. Colour is important too, both vibrant and subtle, forming shaded patterns within patterns. It is easy to see resonances from the work of Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth in them, but this work has a kind of vibrant joy of its own. It may not spring from an especially original starting point but it is taking the ideas of the previous generation and running with them, taking them to a new place, which is an interesting and worthwhile thing to do. These are very precise, ordered, pieces of work, calm and self possessed, which seem to have nothing to declare except their beauty. I liked them very much.
I like the idea that things so precisely created and so perfectly designed and ordered can produce a sense of freedom and throw up unexpected and unusual effects as you look at them, almost in spite of an attempt to pin them down. What you get is much more than the sum of its parts. I have no idea whether that is what was meant by the title but it’s what I have decided it means!
The major single work, Art and Anarchy which fills one of the gallery spaces, seems to me to be a real tribute to “op art” you can’t look at it without thinking of the vibrant colour and patterns in the work of Bridget Riley. It is made up of eighteen vibrant industrial coloured polypropylene screens. As you look at them and stare through the coloured bands of plastic your eyes move and the patterns of colour that you see change and dissolve in front of your eyes. It is quite mesmerising.
I shall be on the look out for more opportunities to see Nike Savvas’ work. Some of the other installations which she has made elsewhere look breathtaking- rather like the work of Yayoi Kusama. I hope that she doesn’t leave it another ten years before we get the chance!