3 important works unveiled at Sheila launch

To celebrate its launch, the Sheila Foundation has secured three important colour field paintings made by Australian women artists in the late 1960s.

The Field was the opening exhibition for the new National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) building on St Kilda Road, Melbourne, in 1968. It marked the first comprehensive look at colour field painting and abstract sculpture in Australia. Influenced by American geometric abstraction popular at the time, The Field included hard edge, colour, and flat abstraction by 40 artists.

Fifty years later, the exhibition was restaged as The Field Revisited, which mirrored the precise content and curation of the original exhibition. Restaging The Field in a contemporary setting illuminated one glaring issue: a lack of women artists. Only three out of the 40 artists in the exhibition were women. These low numbers were not indicative of the lack of practicing women artists innovating in this area, but rather of the failure of Australian art institutions and curators to represent them. The Sheila Foundation’s securing of three works—one each by Lesley Dumbrell, Virginia Coventry and Janet Dawson—is a way to counterbalance the under-representation of women artists in the original exhibition and to reinsert important figures into the narrative of Australian art history.

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Image: Janet Dawson, Over the Rainbow, 1968, acrylic on board, 93.5 x 214.0cm. Courtesy the artist and Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne.

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What’s it like for a young woman artist trying to make her way in the artworld of today? Bella Chidlow is a recent art school graduate interning with the SHEILA Foundation. Here

“The Australian slang term ‘sheila’, a derogatory term for a woman, is a relic of another, more sexist time. But, like other contested words, it has been reclaimed and reappr