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Georgetti, Diena - 2006.16

Diena Georgetti

The Humanity of Abstract Painting 2006
acrylic on canvas
50 x 50 cm
Purchased 2006

Inspired by the Western modernist canon, the abstract figures in Diena Georgetti’s The Humanity of Abstract Painting sit alongside each other in a genial, cooperative way – resembling assorted objects in a living room or players upon a stage. A curtain fastened to one side entices us into the worlds she constructs – a still life of sorts, or a tableau vivant pieced together with a collagist’s flair for reinventing and assimilating her sources. The two central protagonists – a diamond and a circle – gently touch and overlap. The levitating diamond is more imposing, animated by stencilled letters, an existential assertion of self. More reticent, the circle rests on the wooden furniture and plays the role of ornamental roundel, its concentric pattern marking it as modern. Bold zigzags and a triangle reinforce the geometric theme while in the foreground a fallen chandelier, striking a different note, is charged with an eerie radiance. A mischievous duo of pointed shapes peeps down from above, bringing light relief to the unfolding drama.

In the year she made this painting, Georgetti wrote two poetic manifestos that reveal her overarching philosophy and method. ‘The Civilization of the Abstract’[1] expresses her deeply felt sense of connection, a ‘familial relevance’ greater than that of any ‘blood or gene’, to the modernist artists and designers of the twentieth century from whose works she derives obscure visual components for her own compositions – the likes of Picasso, Leger, Kandinsky, Miro and Lloyd Wright. Not intimidated by this roll-call from art history, she makes ‘an aesthetic pledge’ to determine for herself which details of their work are beautiful and of value, choosing according to her heart and eye. In ‘The Humanity of Abstract Painting’, a companion text to the painting of the same name, she locates her works within her private domestic sphere, invoking her version of the modernist ethic of art-into-life. Georgetti describes her one-on-one encounters with newly finished works – catching glimpses of a painting in the mirror, looking for another in the glow of the TV, arranging one among her furnishings or placing it in the bathroom to be scrutinized while she bathes, all the while testing to see if the painting is worthy. She regards her paintings as empathetic presences, investing them with humanity: ‘If I am forced to cry ... and the painting comforts me, it has passed and will survive. If it fails to comfort, it mocks and will be destroyed.’[2]

Georgetti imbues her modernism with content that is intimate, subjective and ultimately unknowable to others, and her quotations are rarely obvious. The impulse for this painting came from an unsettling fixation she had on a black diamond shape, likely seen in a modernist artwork, but which in her mind’s eye hovered nearby and was equal in scale to her body. ‘I came to understand that the diamond was me’, she says, and with the circle it became ‘me and us’, an expression of singularity and togetherness.[3] In the lower left corner of the painting there is a curious metaphysical detail, a diminutive staircase with just a few steps, a folly that leads nowhere except ‘back into the painting itself’. For her, The Humanity of Abstract Painting is about reconciling darkness with light. Several compositions from around this time have a similar format. A central construction – an abstract entity – is pictured amid surrounding geometric motifs. These allude, the artist suggests, to ‘the environments that sustain and define us’. Perhaps here, enigmatically represented, is the stage upon which we play out our lives.

Sue Cramer is a curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne and an independent writer.


[1] Diena Georgetti, ‘The Civilization of the Abstract’ and ‘The Humanity of Abstract Painting’ were both originally published in Linda Michael (ed.), 21st Century Modern: 2006 Biennial of Australian Art, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2006, p.32; republished in Max Delany and Robert Leonard, Diena Georgetti: The Humanity of Abstract Painting 1988–2008, exhibition catalogue, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, 2008, pp.34 and 50.

[2] Diena Georgetti, ‘The Humanity of Abstract Painting’, op. cit.

[3] Unless otherwise stated, quotations are from a conversation with Diena Georgetti, 13 November 2018.