Nyorie Bungey: Painted Words
South Coast Art Regional Art Centre, Goolwa, 2012
Nyorie Bungey remains a little of a mystery in the art world in Adelaide. She’s a mystery
because there’s not much about her on the record. You can look in Alan and Susan
McCulloch’s editions of The Encyclopedia of Australian Art but there’s nothing there; you
can go to Nancy Benko’s Art and Artists of South Australia and that’s of no use too. Shirley
Cameron Wilson in From Shadow to Light refers to Nyorie as “Nyora” and lists her among four new young women who were emerging on the scene in 1955. So we know she’s had a long career, extending over 55 years.
Such oversights were redressed to a certain extent in Max Germaine’s A Dictionary of
Women Artists of Australia, which does reveal part of the story. He describes her as born in 1938 and as a genre painter “in most media”; a printmaker, teacher and illustrator of several children’s books.
You don’t get much of an idea of what Nyorie’s art is like from that but the overall
impression is that her work mustn’t be all that impressive and that perhaps she is not someone to take too seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth: that invisibility has arisen because Nyorie seems unconcerned about seeking fame and reaching a vast audience and is content to get on with the job and work within a regional context.
Nyorie’s chosen medium is gouache painting, executed in small to medium formats –
nothing of monumental scale. Her idiosyncratic style depends on painting patterns and effects by suspending colours over a coloured ground: her figurative images are carefully designed and resolved with precision and attention to detail (and a steady hand).
For some time Nyorie’s imagery concerned recollections of life in the post-war years: it
has a personal style synthesised from Art Deco, Post-Impressionism and commercial imagery of the period. A certain suburban Australian resonance is important in her work. But it’s also about the textures of life back then, of doilies and lace curtains, of floral fabrics and geometric patterns in wallpapers, laminate and linoleum.
More recently she has responded to her new life down on the south coast in her art.
She has become a citizen of outlying areas of “the agapanthus capital of the world”, to use
a Peter Goersism, and has allowed a stream of coastal imagery to wander into dreams rather than memories in her art, at times embarking on a highly personalised yet sophisticated graphic engagement with western art history, from Botticelli to Matisse. And always in her work is a deep engagement with the evolution of children’s book illustration and the graphic worlds of fashion and costume design.
And so her new series, Painted Words, comprising twenty-five exquisite gouache paintings based on poems from an old poetry reader from her schooldays at Black Forest Primary and Girls Central Art School from mid last century. Her imagery now extends further back in history than before, informed by European folk tales, the theatre of Imperial Courts and book illustration from days of yore.
How literate her work has become, in its referencing of Medieval, Renaissance, Pre-
Raphaelite, Deco and Modern illustration, painting and commercial art and fashion; all fused through her method into a coherent package of styling through utter dedication, aesthetic application and her peculiar intellectual whimsy.
Phrases, sentences and verses from poets from Chaucer and the Shakespearian age to the
Industrial era inform her imagery, fleshing out the words that, for her, most captured feelings and emotions in these poems. They reflect the perceptions, manners, chivalries, modesties and sensitivities of their ages, camouflaged in lyric moments that convey profoundly intricacies, innuendoes and the unchoreographed dance of courtship and love.
Nyorie has found herself responding to a better realm, where the song of minstrels and
gentle music can stimulate her mind through the imparted knowledge of patient and skilled artisans, wise and beautiful things that still convey important understandings and pertinent messages about what it is to be human.
The nigh forgotten or lost labours of past eras, heartfelt and well observed word trinkets
that have survived centuries through our civilization and have contributed to its formation, now lie strewn on seldom visited shores. Nyorie has rediscovered their truths and sensibilities, and brought them back to centre stage.
Published as the catalogue essay for the exhibition