Debra DAWES, Parallel planes Enlarge 1 /1


Queensland, Australia born 1955

Parallel planes 2007 Place made: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas Support: cotton canvas

Dimensions: stretched 2605 h x 1800 w x 55 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2008
Accession No: NGA 2008.660

Debra Dawes is a leading contemporary Australian painter whose works explore the parameters of visual perception, optical illusion and abstraction. Parallel planes 2007 is a vibrant and sophisticated work from the series Double-dealing 2007 in which Dawes investigates the disruption of the visual plane and political subterfuge. The series follows on from a series relating to camouflage, Cover up 2006, in which Dawes also explores ideas of the double-deal and the subtle ties between abstraction and politics.

In Parallel planes, brilliant orange and clean white shapes zigzag down the length of the canvas. These zigzags are painted with subtle tonal shifts that give the distinct impression of three-dimensional horizontal ridges. The ridges advance and recede to make the whole composition appear to shift and pulsate, and the optical illusion is further intensified by the large scale of the work.

The title refers to the illusory spatial effects within the work and reflects on the experience of viewing optical art. Dawes notes that when viewing this work, we receive two parallel, yet contradictory streams of information: the textured surface that is received by and deceives our eyes; and what we think we know is true about the two-dimensional surface of a canvas. In a state of intrigue and confusion, we are drawn into the work, compelled to carefully inspect the canvas from the front and the side.

But this is not just a simple optical illusion. ‘What keeps the eye engaged’, writes art critic Sebastian Smee, ‘is Dawes’s encouragement of irregularity within what looks to be predetermined design’.1 Only on closer inspection does the work reveal the delicate hand-painted shapes, the clever nuances of tonal shifts and the true surface of the canvas.

Parallel planes is an engaging new addition to the National Gallery of Australia’s collection of contemporary Australian painting.

Miriam Kelly
Associate Curator, Australian Paintings and Sculpture
in artonview Winter 2009 issue 58


1Sebastian Smee, ‘Beauty and brains’, The Australian, 13 October 2007, p 18.

in artonview, issue 58, winter 2009