To sky, to ground, to sea, to see: Lisa Sharp reviews ‘Luminescent’, an exhibition by Fiona Ryan

Luminescent, an exhibition by Fiona Ryan, is showing at Gallery Klei (Suite 9,
1-7 Albion Place Sydney) until 11 March.

The practice, and verb – of skying – were so named by John Constable. The activity captured by the word connotes that furious intensity intrinsic to evocative skyscape painting. It is an activity of forceful conflation: the painter’s outward eye observing the vast subject overhead, the inward eye translating with memories of other known skies, the hand as agent between the two – mixing, brushing, painting, scrubbing into the fibres of the canvas.¹

Ablaze, 2017, oil on board (Image: Gallery Klei)
Ablaze, 2017, oil on board (Image: Gallery Klei)

Fiona Ryan’s recent paintings at Gallery Klei capture this energetic painterly posture, and she acknowledges Constable, Turner and Monet as influences. This is interesting for a contemporary Australian painter given the long tradition of landscape painting available. However Ryan’s point of departure from that tradition is perhaps the consistent prominence she gives to sky over ground, or sea. Horizons are dropped low, absent or vaguely defined. Another is that while Ryan’s works so plainly speak of the vastness of space in an open sky, they are made in her studio from remembered skies. She now lives on the South coast of New South Wales, however spent a formative time at Ikuntji Arts Centre at Haasts Bluff in the Northern Territory, under what she recounts as very memorable wide desert skies.

The paintings on exhibition are marked by an action of making so patently visible as marks, daubs and strokes of colour on the surface that the making and seeing of the scene are brought together in the painting. Yet while the premise of skying is European and Romantic, these pictures are fictive sketches (Ryan terms them “non places really”). This ambiguity is repeated pictorially, particularly in the most recent works. In the absence of an ideal landscape or place, the painting itself is an intuitive exploration of the ability of oil paint to convey the effects of changing light and expansive space. In the midst of this hazy border zone, the works perch somewhere between abstraction and representation.

Luminescent, 2017, oil on canvas, 122 x 100 cm (Image: Gallery Klei)
Luminescent, 2017, oil on canvas, 122 x 100 cm (Image: Gallery Klei)

Luminescent is reminder of the powerful presence of the natural landscape and its ability to provide inspiration and escapism, for the painter as well as the viewer.
The exhibition Fiona Ryan: ‘Luminescent’ is showing at Galery Klei until 11 March 2017.

¹“They flash upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude” from William Wordsworth, I wandered, lonely as a cloud, 1807.

 – Lisa Sharp

Lisa Sharp is a Malaysian-born Australian artist, writer and curator currently living and working in Sydney. Following an earlier career in the law, she recently attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with Honours in Painting) at the National Art School. Lisa likes to write and muse about art, art making and artists and her blog is at

Exhibition details available at

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