Belinda Fox’s exhibition, ‘Cultivate,’ suggests something essential about our present moment. After eight and a half years living abroad, Fox recently uprooted her life and returned to Australia in the heat of Covid. And the reality of this uprooting inevitably migrates into her work. “A lot of the show is about trying to settle, and trying to find the calm within the chaos,” Fox explains. Yet looking across the exhibition and the artist’s prints, paintings, and ceramics, one soon realises that Fox’s search for equilibrium does not reveal itself in an obvious picturing of this experience—rather, it is a pursuit that is embedded in her process and hums at the edge of her artworks. Equilibrium is not forced. Instead, it is gently yet firmly cultivated and sown in each of the Fox’s pieces.
The starting point for Fox’s exhibition was the moon jar. The traditional Korean ceramic’s shimmering white surface resembles its celestial namesake. However, Fox’s moon jar remains distinct from the perfect sphere that we periodically spy in the night sky. In order to create the ceramic, two hemispheres—the top and the bottom of the jar—must be fused together. “The meeting point of the pot is always visible. It’s deliberate,” Fox notes. “It tells you about the making of this perfect-imperfect thing. It shows the history of the pots.” Fox and her collaborator, master ceramicist Neville French, follow this material tradition, by celebrating the idiosyncrasies of each work. But, in many ways, this process of fusing the two ceramic hemispheres moves beyond the physicality of the jar. There is something in this visible suture that analogises the artist’s recent homecoming and the symbolic fusing of her worlds. The tension and yet completeness of the two halves, suggest a dynamic that emerges and remerges throughout the show, as all of Fox’s piece subtly transact in an economy of control and release. “The main goal for me is trying to empty the artwork out until it is something essential,” Fox says. “[It] is so hard to do. I know I’ll spend my life trying to do that. But the moon jar is one of those amazing historical forms that captures that perfect balance.”
Even when Fox turns away from her moon jars, the artist’s quest for that ineffable balance remains. In her large multipaneled painting, The Yellow Tree, we see her hand negotiating this same treacherous dynamic. Here, she pulls the snaking trunk of a yellow walnut tree into existence through a series of delicate and nuanced marks. Yet, as soon as the artist’s brush reaches the tree’s foliage, the detailed precision of the trunk lapses into ghostly leaves and loose forms, which almost threaten to disappear before our eyes. Fox’s divergent mark-making produces an interplay between presence and absence, as forms are both declared and redacted within the shared space of the painting. This dissonance is further echoed by the sharp, and erratic lashes of black that disturb the pale ground of the painted board, infusing it with a kinetic charge. The unusual texture is rendered by a chimney cleaner, which Fox not only brushed over her paintings, but also over her prints and ceramics.
By raking the cleaner’s bristles across her oeuvre, Fox produces a shared visual vocabulary which transcends the division of medium. Or put another way, we can discern some hint of spontaneity in her prints that recalls her jars, which, in turn, reminds us of her paintings. These visible connections hint at the other invisible threads that link and bind Fox’s works together. “It’s almost impossible for me to make one painting, because I’m always thinking about what is next to it,” Fox confesses. Indeed, one gets the sense that everything is connected in Fox’s ‘Cultivate’—and that everything hangs, suspended, in a perfectly-imperfect balance. - Words by Tai Mitsuji