Intimate illuminations: ‘Daughters of the Sun’ at Bendigo Art Gallery

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller and Klytie Pate , exhibition installation view, Bendigo Art Gallery, 2018–19; image courtesy Bendigo Art Gallery

Daughters of the Sun: Christian Waller and Klytie Pate, exhibition installation view, Bendigo Art Gallery, 2018–19; image courtesy Bendigo Art Gallery

The recent two-artist exhibition ‘Daughters of the Sun’ (10 November 2018 – 10 February 2019) explored the close relationship between the printmaker Christian Waller (1894–1954) and her niece, the ceramicist Klytie Pate (1912–2010), one of Australia’s most significant potters. Waller had a strong influence on the practice of Pate, who she and her husband Napier helped raise at their arts and crafts-style home at Fairy Hills in Melbourne. Both artists shared a deep spirituality that underpinned their work and practice, and the exhibition noted their mutual interest in astrology, mythology, theosophy and the occult.

Showcased in ‘Daughters of the Sun’ was Waller’s belief in all-encompassing design, featuring a small selection of works from her broader oeuvre that included illustration, painting, printmaking, mosaic and stained glass (for which the artist was especially revered). Indeed, the exhibition provided visitors the rare opportunity to glimpse her designs in-depth. The round window Untitled (Angus Og and Caer Ormaith) (c. 1930s), created for the musician and close friend Hilda Meadows, was displayed backlit to illuminate the vibrant colours. When viewed up-close, the intricate handpainted daisies, stars and halo of swallows surrounding the lovers were revealed.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was Waller’s artist book of seven original linocuts, The Great Breath (1932), which explores the seven theosophical stages of human evolution through intricate symbolic designs. These small yet powerful prints were displayed in a special freestanding room accompanied by three of Waller’s original linocut plates that emphasised the great skill of the artist.

The main exhibition room included a remarkable display of Pate’s vibrant viridian green earthenware, showcasing the rich colour plays and innovative glazes that she became renowned for. The surfaces of these vessels are incised with elaborate art deco designs that recall the drama of theatre but are grounded in Pate’s theosophical beliefs and connection to nature.

Sensitively curated by Emma Busowsky Cox, ‘Daughters of the Sun’ celebrated the life and work of Waller and Pate through an intimate retelling, bringing these important female artists to the fore.

Rebecca Blake is currently Critic-in-Residence at ANCA, Canberra, in a special project partnership with Art Monthly Australasia.