Beverley Budgen – A Delicate Balance

It takes a great deal of experience to become natural.

What are co-efficients? They are the building blocks of all art. Line, form, shape, tonal value, pattern, colour, texture, structure, rhythm, repetition, contrast, harmony.

Delicate and confident are two words that come to mind when considering Beverley Budgen’s unique sensibility as a painter. While these two descriptive words might feel, at first, to be oppositional, within her work her sensitivity to all aspects of making a painting combines with a deft and spirited approach, creating a singular and distinctively consistent oeuvre. Her career has spanned over forty years, and in this current exhibition – A New Millenium – Budgen’s relationship to the history of art and its influences spans multiple millennia, with her sources ranging from the Renaissance, through to the Victorian era and on to various schools of Modernism in the twentieth century.

With A New Millenium, Budgen establishes, since the year 2000, a redoubled freshness and vivacity – particularly with regard to her interest in picturing the simple scenes and pleasures of everyday life and the spiritual refreshment that a well-wrought canvas brings to the viewer.

In 1995, Beverley Budgen joined acclaimed Queensland artists to present the “A Time Remembered: Art in Brisbane 1950 – 1975” exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Comments on Beverley’s featured works in this exhibition included: “Beverley and several other artists concerned themselves with modernist styles to express their perceptions and ideas of creativity that were current at the time.” The prevailing style that typified paintings in the 1960s and ’70s may have attracted the notion that modernism was a vehicle for Beverley Budgen’s artwork. But in truth, the results of her accomplishments represent the sum total of 55 years of devotion to her craft, which was ignited at the early age of 6 and has always been strongly motivated by a desire to express herself in paint. Even in today’s atmosphere of trends bound by the trappings of commercialisation, Beverley Budgen resists the temptation to be influenced by current thought and styles, while remaining more contemporary than modernistic. Her painting is inspired by uniquely personal journeys of self-discovery, influenced by “the innate tendencies and talents with which painters are inexplicably born”

Experiments in compositional structure, graphic invention and surprising colour choices form the backbone of her inquiry. Whether the depth of an image is pushed up close and tight to the picture plane, as in The Floral Jug, 2014, or implies a shallow middle ground (and not too deep a space) as in Streetsweepers, Glebe 2008 – or yet again, pictures a panoramic landscape with great, vast space layered onto fore-, middle, and background in the style of Stormy Morning, Land’s End, 2005, the artist deftly compacts much information within the four edges of the canvas, all the while avoiding stasis or discord. By activating the eye to focus just off the centre of the picture, Budgen then further sparks interest through complementary colour and graphic rhythm to keep the eye travelling around the canvas, curious to investigate every corner.

For example, looking again at Streetsweepers, the choices and decisions Budgen has made with regard to composition involve line, rhythm, repetition, colour and shape, as well as the content of the narrative involved. My eye is first drawn to the man’s face at the center of the canvas – he is almost looking at the viewer. This brilliant use of our proclivity for visually connecting to another human face anchors the composition. As a central point, his visage is artfully balanced by Budgen’s playing the gaze of the relaxed, shirtless man with a bit of a belly to the right, against the red and yellow graphic stripes of the workers’ road sign at the bottom left. The central grouping of all three streetsweepers forms an upright, pointy triangle further ballasting the composition. The vertical rhythm of their five bare legs (one is hidden) and their broom handles echoes the road sign stripes, as well as the horizontal fence of palings in the background. We don’t quite know what the deep grey-purple poles are behind the fence, but their weight and definitive vertical stance creates yet another rhythmic beat, and their inclusion at the top of the canvas is humourously playful. An inverted triangle, created by the trunk of a tree, meets with and offsets the streetsweepers: the flattened perspective of the car slipped in between the two triangles plays with our sense of depth. The “push-pull” of the planes of colour and shape dance around a central axis. Truly, this painting and its relaxed, easygoing atmosphere – the streetsweepers are standing and chatting, and the shirtless man does not seem to be in a rush – is remarkably endearing, and, to my mind, very Australian.

Budgen’s use of the triangle throughout her work as both a stabilizing and energizing compositional tool connects her to the Renaissance artists, architects and musicians (the most well-known including Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt and Vermeer, as well as countless others) who rediscovered Pythagoras’ theories of divine arithmetical and geometrical relationships.3 Beginning in 1983, Budgen began experimenting with what she has termed her “self-portrait symbols” that feature an isosceles triangle. Representing a means of deepening her understanding of herself as an individual, as an artist, and to develop her own personal, spiritual ethos, she has used this symbology in her work ever since, sometimes hidden and sometimes more overtly.

Out of Budgen’s immersion in years of defining and perfecting her skills, has come another connection to the Renaissance – the concept of sprezzatura. That is, an avoidance of “affectation in every way possible . . . and to practice in all things a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort…”4 The term sprezzatura was first coined by Renaissance courtier Baldassare Castiglione, a friend of Raphael’s, and of whom Raphael painted a portrait composed upon a triangular structure. For Castiglione, effortlessness was the “manner from which grace springs”5 and historically, painters from Rubens to Pollack and beyond have embraced the spontaneous, gestural application of paint as a true means of creating vitality of spirit with their work. For Budgen, sprezzatura denotes a sense of élan in the face of the glory of living as well as an engaging common ground with the viewer.

Two of the most wonderful aspects of Budgen’s paintings are the joy and delight emanating from her pictures. She has written of these qualities as desired goals when she says:

The unseen energy that flows from the surface of a painting is created by the artist having developed an image in which all the co-efficients are in perfect balance…the viewer’s heart is nourished by these vibrations, the spirit is lifted and the mind becomes still.

Composition may be best defined as the help of everything
in the picture by everything else and signifies an arrangement in which everything in the work is thus consistent with all things else, and helpful to all else.

For Ruskin, repose is a proof of divine permanence – that which doesn’t change in the face of time or human activity.8 Ruskin was a great supporter of the Romantics and early Modernist painters, such as Turner. His thinking allowed painting to free itself from strict representation and conformity to tradition for its own sake.

Of course, Budgen’s methods translate and further develop the style of Matisse and the Fauves – twentieth century Modernist painters who rebelled against academism and traditional hierarchies. In her hands, Matisse’s joie de vivre is made more ephemeral and full of light. Budgen’s hand is always moving and alive, and her application of washes both saturated and pastel maintains a viewer’s attachment to the white ground of the canvas and, hence, a transparency – a feeling that gentle and fervent observation and response to Nature, humanity and where the two intersect count for something very great in this world of ours.

An artist’s sensibility is developed and created over time, and functions as a lens through which each artist sees and experiences the world. This process can be the most mysterious condition of making art. Does the artist recreate the world, or does the activity of doing her work create her into the person she must become? Probably a bit of both.

Carol Schwarzman
March 2015