Miriam Stannage by Lee Kinsella

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Diffusion I 1969 is a remarkable spray painting that Miriam Stannage produced by using the family’s Hoover vacuum cleaner. Stannage could not afford to buy an industrial spray gun so, ever the pragmatist, she masked areas of unprimed cotton duck and reversed the vacuum machine to blow paint through the spray attachment. What resulted from this method was a series of hard and soft‑edge paintings that were resolutely non representational. In Diffusion I, a hexagon acts as a prism through which we see pinks, blues, greens and mauve. The opaque grey paint on the border consolidates the framing effect and provides a contrast to the sprayed, almost translucent, areas.

Stannage was 23 years old when she enrolled in the University of Western Australia extension art classes in 1962. Three years later she had decided that she would become a professional artist. By this stage she was a part‑time student of Polish‑born artist, Henry Froudist, and was revelling in the new fields of knowledge she encountered via her art education. Froudist introduced his students to significant European avant‑garde artists, and Stannage pursued her own research into Japanese, Chinese and western traditions of art. In 1965 she opened a gallery space in the suburb of Subiaco, dedicated to showing the work of Western Australian artists who were pursuing contemporary or modern art. By 1967, she had handed over the business and was able to visit Sydney to view MoMA’s influential travelling exhibition, Two decades of American painting, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Stannage recalled that she was particularly impressed by the paintings of Kenneth Noland and Josef Albers.(1)

Diffusion I is a colour field painting that demonstrates Stannage’s capacity to process styles and influences from across the globe and consolidate them into a unique practice that is responsive to Western Australian conditions. The ethereal quality of the colours and light allude to deeply held, yet rarely publicly acknowledged, religious beliefs that were the foundation of her life and work. As she noted, ‘All great art has a balance of both form and content. There must be some balance of feeling and thought’.(2)

Stannage is probably best known for photographic work that she produced from the 1980s. Throughout her 50‑year career she maintained her interest in the nature of vision—in both a literal and metaphorical sense. An independent and highly capable intellectual artist, Stannage continued to challenge and change her practice, working through many visual styles and genres while actively resisting being defined as a ‘woman artist’.

(1) Miriam Stannage interviewed by Bill Hawthorn, 1974, available online at the State Library of Western Australia, Perth, call number: OH4096, at encore.slwa.wa.gov.au, accessed 1 November 2019.

(2) Miriam Stannage, ‘Notes on my work’, February 1984, unpublished, p 3.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Kinsella, Lee. "Miriam Stannage" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 336–337.

LEE KINSELLA is a freelance curator and writer.

Miriam Stannage appears in