Jun 23, 2010

Art crush: Cassandra Laing

 Cassandra Laing, Fortune Teller (it will all end in stars), 2007
image source: BonesMagazine

As an art nerd, there are few things that frustrate me more than seeing a beautiful painting/drawing/sculpture/photograph, and not being able to find out the name of the artist responsible. The I-must-know-more itch gets worse if it's a piece of art you bump into frequently, as has been the case with a large scale drawing by Cassandra Laing which looks over the foyer of RMIT's art gallery, where I have been volunteering over the past few months. Cassandra Laing, did you say? ID-ed at last?!

My art stalkerage usually takes discovery of artist's name as its point of departure, moves to scouring gallery listings and portfolio websites, poring over bios, and finishes up with me saving sets of images to drool over at a more convenient time (wow, I managed to make that sound really creepy, huh? This is art we're talking about, people!). However googling Cassandra's name produced very few results, several of them dead ends, others references to an America's Next Top Model she shares her name with. The little information I do have comes from a rather moving article written by The Age's senior arts writer, Gabriella Coslovich, back in 2007. Laing's incredibly detailed pencil drawings draw on themes of death and fragility for a very valid reason: Laing lost her sister to cancer in 2001, and was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Her move from painting to drawing was motivated by the effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment - yet rather than seeming like a mere neccessity, Laing's choice of medium seems completely appropriate for the delicay and poignancy of her images. The eye-popping level of detail in Laing's works is offset by their sheer scale - Fortune Teller (it will all end in stars) is over a metre in width and height.

The message of Fortune Teller becomes even more powerful when we learn of Laing's illness. She is commenting on our how we try to both know and control the future, and on the fultilty of this drive in the light of our insignificance against the backdrop of eternity, the cosmos. Whether it comes abruptly and early, or at the end of a long life, death is irrefutable, and we, like the origami forms Laing depicts, are beautiful, complex, but ultimately fragile and short lived. 

Wow. That's a lot of philosophising right there. I guess it goes to show the level of emotional response  great art can provoke. I acknowledge that not everyone who sees Cassandra Laing's work will feel as strongly about it as I do -- I am biased: I especially like drawing,  and cancer is a longstanding fear of mine, so her story is especially moving -- but I think it would be hard to look at it an deny its brilliance, purely on a technical level. Now if only I could locate more of Laing's work, and sit and stare at it for hours on end...

Cassandra Laing, Darwin Girls, 2006
image source: The Age


Anonymous said...

Your thoughts on Cassandra's works are very moving - her work is very special. Cassandra's work becomes even more powerful when you learn that Cassandra died in September 2007, from the cancer she was discussing in the article with Gabriella. You can find more about Cassandra on Helen Gory's website: www.helengory.com. She also gets a significant mention in an article on MONA, headed "David's Temple", in today's Australian.

Anonymous said...

I never met Cassie, however Cassie's father, Ray Small was by partner from 1993 to 2010. Tragically Ray and Cassie have not spoken for many years and to Ray despair the rift was never mended up to his death in March 2010. During his illness he spent much time and received much joy from photos and art work of Cassie's. He mentioned that the Darwin Girls was a photo he had taken of his daughters on a family day out. The photograph was special to Ray as he recalled wonderful memories with the girls having so much fun on the train ride. His devastation at the lost of both his daughters was something Ray could not recover from.

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