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When Noel Thurgate went to Elisabeth Cummings’ 2017 survey exhibition Interior landscapes at Sydney’s SH Ervin Gallery, he was struck by the accompanying photograph of a young Elisabeth, aged 40, standing beside a tree trunk admiring the construction of her house/studio – where all the works in the exhibition would be made.
‘Her expression suggested to me that she was looking into the future,’ says Thurgate. ‘Although I have known Elisabeth for over 20 years, admired her work and been aware of her role within the influential artists’ enclave at Wedderburn, I hadn’t been to her studio until I began preparatory drawings for this painting.
‘Entering the studio, ideas and images immediately tumbled into place. The tree in the 1974 photo is the centre post supporting the roof. The very fabric of the building – stone, clay and wood – reflects the rich, earthy materiality always evident in Elisabeth’s palette. Numerous skylights reveal glimpses of trees and sky, and flood the interior with top-light, while Elisabeth quietly, calmly gets on with it, looking forward to starting the next painting.’
Born in Nowra in 1955, Thurgate lives and works in Berrima, New South Wales. This is his fifth time in the Archibald Prize.