Acrylic on canvas
1370 x 875mm
From 1962 to 1964, Mrkusich worked on a series of paintings called Emblems. In these he introduced circles, squares, isolated lines, and parallelograms over freely brushed areas. These paintings were very different from the ‘action’ paintings that had occupied him during the previous two years. His earlier works had involved expressionistic, flowing gestural rhythms, in which geometrical rigour was sometimes suggested but never defined. He now introduced a greater degree of calculation into his work via the positioning of hard, geometric and linear elements.
The title, The Contained Waters, beautifully expresses the artist’s intention—that of giving structure to the formless. Mrkusich has contained the light blue (watery?) sections of this painting. In the lower section, he has continued to use the fluid brushwork that characterised his earlier work from 1960, but now each colour area is bound within a tight compositional frame, rather than allowed to spread. The regularity of the brown, red, and gold circles in this work is something quite new for Mrkusich.
In looking at the painting, one can see him moving away from the influence of the often violently worked canvasses of American abstract expressionism towards a more linear style, which—one can recognise in hindsight—is where his work had always been leading. His next period refined the new rationalised approach. Circles and squares dominate his Elements series; gestural, expressionistic brushwork is replaced by smoother, less heavily worked textures.
Representation and Reaction: Modernism and the New Zealand Landscape Tradition 1956–1977, Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua, Whanganui, 31 August to 27 October 2002 (toured)
Contemporary Painting in New Zealand, Commonwealth Institute, London, November 1965
Alan Wright and Edward Hanfling, Mrkusich: The Art of Transformation (Tāmaki Makaurau: Auckland University Press, 2009), 110.