There is nothing more quintessentially Australian than the long days and hot nights of summer, with heatwaves an increasingly common feature. While this latest exhibition at West Gallery Thebarton touches on climate change and its effect on the seasons, Heatwave is more an ode to summer and the nostalgia associated with it.

Curator Tara Rowhani-Farid’s idea for the exhibition came out of the simple notion of wanting to visit an exhibition during the height of winter and be transported to balmy, happier times.

“I left it open for the artists and gave a very brief sentence for them to work with, which was: ‘Held during the darkest part of the Aussie winter, Heatwave is an ode to summer; long days, hot nights’,” she says.

Featuring 14 South Australian artists working in a range of media including painting, print making, ceramics, drawing, photography and sculpture, Heatwave encapsulates familiar memories of childhood summers. The long scorching days, holidays by the beach, test cricket on the TV, inventive ways to keep cool, running under the sprinkler and the longing for the cool change to come.

Maxie Ashton’s Landscape #4, acrylic and oil on canvas.

Heatwave was originally meant to run last year for the SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival but was delayed due to COVID. It was then due to open the week of our recent seven-day lockdown and again had to be delayed, but at last the doors are open. The long lead time of a year has meant the majority of the artists have created new work and the work is of a reflective nature. The pandemic has allowed us time to be nostalgic and reflect on the past.

Gerry Wedd’s Leather on Willow (glazed ceramic).

Walking into the exhibition you are immediately struck by the palette, the colours of summer. Maxie Ashton’s landscapes, for example, depict the harshness and beauty of our environment. Other works, such as the photographic series by Rosina Possingham and Brianna Speight, capture the vibrancy of the Australian beach lifestyle.

Gerry Wedd’s ceramics also reflect our love of the beach and how synonymous it is with the Australian summer. Works such as Leather on Willow Thong, a thong depicting a cricketer, perfectly embody the themes of the exhibition and suggests a time which was simpler and freer.

“A heatwave can be wonderful and awful and transformative and devastating, and I think that the artists in the exhibition have captured all sides of this brilliantly,” says Rowhani-Farid.

Some of the artists’ work is more subtle than others. Alice Blanch’s series of photographic prints titled Sunken Reflections comment on the rising sea levels, a result of global warming. Mary-Jean Richardson’s works are also understated; her paintings began as experimental, playful studies capturing the feeling of a hot summer’s day but evolved to reflect the consequences of heatwaves.

Other artists, such as Cassie Thring, are more obvious with their message. Her ceramic budgerigars strike the perfect balance between humorous and poignant, falling up and then down due to the heat.

Cassie Thring’s Falling Up (then down), clay, underglaze.

Another highlight is Sue Michael’s Geographic Thought Series, a group of 80 small-scale paintings that depict domestic landscapes and capture moments in time during the height of summer. These snapshots of the everyday reflect Australian life and manage to capture not just how a heatwave looks but also how it feels.

While the artists in the exhibition are giving personal recollections of what Heatwave means to them, there is a common sense of nostalgia across all of the work. With Rowhani-Farid’s initial concept being to develop an exhibition that would help her escape the depths of winter, Heatwave provides the perfect distraction from the current COVID situation, transporting us back to a time when life was simpler.

Heatwave is showing at West Gallery Thebarton until August 22. SALA Festival continues throughout the month of August.

Heatwave (installation view) at West Gallery Thebarton.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.