Wendy Loefler 1950-2017

July 7, 2017
Wendy Loefer, Last Light, from the sequence, Elsewhere (2015-17)
Wendy Loefer, Last Light, from the sequence, Elsewhere (2015-17)

In the weeks leading up to her exhibition at Australian Galleries in Melbourne, Wendy Loefler emailed me about the work she had been doing over the past two years. “It’s fairly unusual and considerably more ambitious than my usual fare. I’m making one continuous immersive desert landscape in the round, on twelve abutting large canvasses.”

She said the piece was finally coming together in the studio and she was feeling increasingly confident. She wondered if I might come to the studio for a viewing. As it happened I couldn’t do it, and now I regret not having tried a little harder and made time to let Wendy show me this extraordinary work.

Wendy had been a mature age student at the National Art School when I spent a year lecturing in the art history department. Like many of the students who turn to art in later life she was dedicated in a way that her younger peers could rarely comprehend, let alone emulate. Having finally made the commitment to become an artist she took every opportunity to learn and to improve her skills.

The NAS is known for its commitment to drawing, and this suited Wendy perfectly. No artist has ever been diminished or distracted by drawing classes. In Ingres’s famous formulation, “drawing is the probity of art”. Look up the meaning of “probity” and the closest synonyms are words such as “scrupulousness”, “rectitude”, “integrity”. For Ingres there was a moral dimension to drawing: a commitment to honest and accurate observation, a need to narrow the gap between reality and one’s perceptions of reality.

Everyone who has attended a drawing class knows that such a skill can only be acquired through constant practice. One can have endless theories but not the slightest dexterity. The necessary connections between eye, mind and hand can only be forged through the repetitive act of drawing, until the process becomes almost instinctive.

Wendy took this requirement seriously, going out into the landscape for weeks at a time, often being completely alone in the desert. The large, detailed drawings of the Great Sandy Desert that became the monumental work, Elsewhere, are deeply meditative in nature. We can feel how profoundly she has absorbed the truth of this landscape before picking up a stick of charcoal.

Unlike those artists who are always preparing to paint their masterpiece, Wendy managed to complete this magisterial work before she was taken from us. We may feel sad that a career that had been so long delayed, and showed such exceptional promise, has been cut short. On the other hand it’s heartening that Wendy experienced a powerful sense of artistic fulfilment in the work that has become her summa and testament. She didn’t leave this world without knocking on the door of immortality.