On Wednesday the 23rd of July, Geelong artist, Rosemary Coleman after a long illness passed away at her home of natural causes. She was 84 years old.
Rosemary Coleman’s life as a serious contemporary artist with a thirty-two year career deserves to be remembered. Rosemary Coleman was a determined woman with vivacious personality that was expressed in her art. She had delayed her artistic career by a couple of decades to be a housewife and mother but with her art she was her own woman. Her paintings are frequently abstractions of landscapes with female figures, for example, Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting in the collection of the Geelong Art Gallery.
Her art was part of the return to painting and she was interested in linear forms and the calligraphy of brush strokes. Her art was experimental, not in the sense of avant-garde but in that she kept on experimenting with how to express her vision in media from printing to painting. Every mark was an experiment in creating the image.
She was involved with the development of local Geelong art scene. In the 1980s and 1990s her work was often in group exhibitions at the Geelong Art Gallery. In 1983 Rosemary Coleman was included in the annual exhibition, Survey 5 at the Geelong Art Gallery along with a younger generation of local artists; Robert Drummond, Lachlan Fisher, Don Walters. Later in the 1980s Rosemary Coleman was amongst a half dozen artists who initiated Artery, the first art-run gallery in Geelong. Rosemary also taught art history at the Geelong TAFE in 1980s. She also exhibited in Encounter Confrontation–Australia–Itay, a group exhibition exchange with a city in Italy organised by the Geelong Art Gallery.
The Geelong Art Gallery has two of her works in their collection: Mixed Media Man (1986) a coloured linocut and Women at Play (1989) a large acrylic painting. There are four of her works in Swan Hill Regional Gallery’s collection: two from 1987, Media Man and Graffiti, and two from 1992, Icarus flees the crowd and Icarus flees the hand.
There is also art by Rosemary Coleman in the collections of the Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Warrnambool Art Gallery, Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Deakin University, Geelong Grammar School and private collections. During her artistic career she had eleven solo exhibitions and many more group exhibitions in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Hobart, Geelong, Castlemaine, Swan Hill, and overseas in Italy and Japan. In 1991 she received a high commendation in the Blake Prize for Religious Art. Her first solo exhibition was at Young Originals Gallery in Melbourne in 1974 and her last exhibition was at Rinaldi Gallery in Brunswick in 2006. Unfortunately in the 1970s and 1980s Australia’s contemporary art gallery scene was still a developing and Rosemary Coleman did not have good luck with the galleries representing her; she complained that they kept on closing down.
I first encountered Rosemary Coleman’s art in the lounge room of a shared house in Clayton where I lived for a year. I was surprised to learn that this work was by the mother of one of my housemates, John Coleman. John was always happy that his mother had her own interesting life as an artist. It was a mixed media work on paper with ‘J’ai froid’ (I am cold) written amongst the calligraphic brush stokes. It was appropriately located about the single, inadequate gas heater in the uninsulated, run-down weatherboard house. I would look at it and sympathise with Rosemary painting in a cold studio.
Since then I have seen her art regularly, several of her exhibitions and hanging in the houses of friends from that shared house. In 1986 Niagara Galleries had exhibition of her large abstract paintings. I remember one in particular, as it currently hangs in a friend’s living room, a densely coloured field of flowers and faces that has been painted over, obscured by a thick white swirls of brushstrokes and a cyan calligraphic gesture.