Dagmar Cyrulla’s new exhibition does not resemble the work that she set out to make at the beginning of the year. Recent Works instead tracks the first-hand experience of the artist living through a pandemic: the inevitable frustrations, the hour-long calls, the endless routines, the unexpected intimacies, the stifling limitations, and the raw successes. Cyrulla’s exhibition captures this kaleidoscopic cross-section. Her work renders the invisible contours of the human experience visible, affording these fleeting moments a permanent expression in art.
In Recent Works, Cyrulla returns to her psychologically charged portraits of life. There is a humanity and candour to her paintings, which imbues them with an openness despite their specificity. To look at one of Cyrulla’s paintings is to sit in a state of comfortable silence, to have a sense of automatic intimacy, and to recognise some essential yet ineffable part of her subject. In one of her paintings, a nude figure lies curled on a bed, toes softly pushing into the mattress below; in another, two girls stare into a mirror and out at the viewer, while diligently washing their hands; in a third work, another nude leans over the edge of a bathtub, with a mobile pressed absentmindedly to her ear. These tableaux of life not only reveal physical interiors, but also their subject’s psychological dimensions. Cyrulla’s works strike at the base notes of our existence, arresting the nuance of our everyday, which we so often skirt over. The artist’s paintings and her sculptures are united by the empathic hand that slowly guides them into existence.
While there is an ease to the viewing experience, it is perhaps unsurprising that Cyrulla’s process is far more demanding. In order to penetrate the human condition, Cyrulla must work and rework the pieces until she finds what she has been endlessly searching for. “There are very few works that fall off the brush,” she explains. “Even my sculptures are quite painterly. I’m always moving through the form, changing things, shifting areas.” Indeed, only a day after giving this very explanation, Cyrulla was back to reworking the faces of her work Hug (a delicate sculpture that almost exists as an artefact of a pre-Covid era, depicting two youths caught in an embrace). “If you’ve been working on something all day, all week, all month, you can’t see it anymore. You need fresh eyes,” Cyrulla says. “Sometimes you don’t know and you overwork it, and it ends up getting thrown out.” The artworks in Recent Works have all been forged in this furnace of concentrated effort, and have made it out the other side. They speak to our time - our quiet moments and our loud frustrations - but they also speak of Cyrulla’s unwavering pursuit of our common humanity.
By Tai Mitsuji
Dagmar Cyrulla trained at the Julian Ashton Art School and the New York Studio School before completing a Masters of Fine Art at Monash University (by scholarship) in 2009. Cyrulla also holds a Bachelor of Visual Arts from the University of Western Sydney. She has continually exhibited since 1988, winning numerous prizes and awards and has been a finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award and Doug Moran National Portrait Prize on multiple occasions. In 2017, her self-portrait ‘I Am Woman’ was Highly Commended by The Doug Moran National Portrait Prize. This year her work has been selected for the Kilgour Figuration Prize, the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award, the Percival Portrait Prize and the Darling Portrait Prize.