Patterns are revealed as motif and metaphor in Clare Thackway’s current collection of oil paintings. The patterns are varied and sensitively handled. There are gingham textiles, intertwined leaves, branches, and bodies, and the delicate tracery of lead lighting. The patterns create a sense of continuity between the canvases in the exhibition, whether the scenery of an intimate vignette, or an opportunity for formal experimentation. Thackway’s process was likewise continuous. She worked on several canvases simultaneously, layering the paint slowly and methodically over days and weeks. But within this continuity, each pattern stages a distinctive moment of rupture where petit récits (small narratives) unfold. Rêve (Dream) provides a tussled grid on which the contorted body of a pre-adolescent child strains. That’s Not Distance Between Us and Woman and Child hint at the push and pull of interdependency by combining tenderly interlaced bodies with gestures of reservation such as a turned head, or palms that fail to meet. In Everlasting and Calling Australian native feathers and paper daisies are plucked and suspended weightlessly against a manufactured plaid ground. For Thackway, these are meditations on deracination and the disorientation felt as a result of existing between two communities, time zones, and cities.

The grid is a recurring pattern in Thackway’s work. Geometric abstraction usually signals the modernist ideal of a pure, universal, and autonomous work of art. However, Thackway subverts the implied rationality, masculinity, and permanence associated with the grid by using it to demonstrate that nothing escapes the flux of life. Thackway’s grids are rumpled, faded, and stained. They swathe young bodies and undergo maintenance and metamorphosis. In this exhibition, her grandmother’s plaid tablecloth makes regular appearances and materialises the complex enmeshment of matrilineal knowledge, intergenerational transmission, and memories of warmth, comfort, and home. A defining feature of this series is the surrealist tension Thackway creates by faithfully rendering the texture and mass of objects, but suspending them nowhere. The lack of visual anchors and stable coordinates makes fixing the human subjects impossible. Instead, the figures float freely, untangling their grids in perpetuity.

Jaime Tsai