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1980s Abstract Watercolours

by Jason Cawood

Above: Untitled

During the mid 1980s, Mary Filer produced a large series of abstract pieces in watercolours. These works are mostly rendered on long pieces of rectangular paper, and rarely employ her trademark wax technique where an application of clear wax resulted in white areas where paint did not adhere. Instead Filer emphasizes the softer qualities of watercolour, with diffuse organic shapes, ambiguous blobs, and “dripping” effects. These are truly abstract works in that they don’t have any specific real world referent, though they could be seen as the inevitable end stage of Filer’s numerous impressionistic depictions of sunsets, landscapes, and cloudscapes. The most vibrant pieces in this group feature colours from an unmistakably 1980s pallete intermingling and bleeding together in a manner reminiscent of Helen Frankenthaler. Others are rendered in more somber and muted shades of grey, blue, earth tones, with occasional flourishes of gold and copper.

The dimensions of the work vary widely, with many pieces rendered large (typically about 53” in length) while the others are of a more modest scale. A common trait amongst most of these pieces (especially the larger ones) is the long scroll-like dimensions of the paper, perhaps an homage to the traditional Asian scroll art Filer was enamoured with.

It is notable that most works are untitled, with only a few bearing names like “Nocturne Expo” or “After Yan!” (“Expo” could be a reference to Vancouver’s Expo 86, which would have been preparing to open around the time these pieces were made.) Filer would continue producing numerous abstract watercolours on paper throughout the later 80s, 90s and into the 2000s, but the work produced between 1985 and 86 represents a fruitful period for this particular style.