Still Light: Vanitas Reimagined – A review of an Exhibition by Maria Gravias

Exhibition Header
Exhibition Header

This amazing exhibition features work by MARIA GRAVIAS, winner of the inaugural Mount Avoca People’s Choice Award at the 2021 TACIT Still Life prize exhibition.⁠

The exhibition is being held at the TACIT Galleries at Level 1, 189/191 Johnston Street Collingwood and runs through until Saturday 10 September 2022 and is open from 6:30pm until 8:00pm.


[CLICK to enlarge]
The opening night, last night, had a real gala feel about it as the gallery was packed with invited guests attending to see for themselves, the work of this amazing artist.

There is no doubt, the inordinate amount of work Maria Gravias has put into honing her skills is fully realised in this exhibition.

I spoke with Maria on the opening night and asked her a few questions while time allowed.

Hello Maria. Tonight is a big night, just what does it mean to you?

“Well firstly, it’s important and thrilling to have all my friends here tonight to help me celebrate the physical manifestation of this exhibition. I would like to thank everybody here for coming along this evening. It’s been a life-long ambition of mine to have a solo exhibition in an established commercial gallery. I’ve had works included in many group exhibitions over the years but predominantly in publicly funded state galleries…….Monash Gallery of Art here in Melbourne, a gallery that focuses heavily on collecting Australian photography, for example. I’ve worked hard for this outcome and my hope is that my work will be received positively by my family, friends and the broader public.”

When did you start working in this medium and with this form?

“My interest in the photographic medium began when I was undertaking a Bachelor of Secondary Education in the 1970s. I taught for a couple of years and then left teaching and went back to undertake post-graduate studies in Photography at the Australian National University’s School of Art. Then life got in the way and I stopped making art. I was the principal educator at the National Portrait Gallery for a number of years and then worked in the Australian Government’s Arts portfolio for over a decade managing high profile visual arts funding programs working with all of the national and state funded collecting institutions to tour visual arts exhibitions across the country. It’s only since I’ve retired from my formal working life that I’ve returned to my passion of creating art again.” 

A number of your pieces have sold, this must give you both great satisfaction and encouragement?

“It does give me satisfaction that some works have sold as it validates my practice and I suppose gives me the impetus to go on making art. However, money has never been my motivation or the driving force for creating my imagery. There is something intrinsically satisfying about chasing beauty and trying to create a beautiful still life composition. For me, making and sharing this imagery is an antidote to counter all of the ugliness and violence on our planet. It was particularly poignant to me during the pandemic that friends and my Instagram followers (many of the artists themselves) articulated how lovely it was to be engaging with my art during those harrowing lockdowns.”

Talking of encouragement, your partner Mike Rudd is here tonight. Now Mike is well known artist in the Australian music field and very respected himself. How important is it to you to have his support?

Mike and Maria – [CLICK to enlarge]
“It’s extremely important to me to have Mike’s support. I have enormous respect for Mike and his artistic output, or oeuvre as an artist would say, and it is simply astonishing that Mike is still writing music and performing. His commitment and drive amazes and delights me. His back catalogue and surviving 50 years in the music industry is no mean feat as any musician would tell you. Mike is absolutely dedicated to his craft and I am very, very grateful for his encouragement in my artistic endeavours. We share ideas.”

A more difficult question to finish on, as I look at through the exhibition, I wonder what is the philosophy behind your work, what motivates you and how does it give you pleasure?

“I have an abiding interest in, and respect for philosophy, aesthetics and the metaphysical domain—the complex ideas embedded in differing world views and how we choose to navigate our lives in line with those belief systems. For instance, in traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. ‘Wabi’ is a mindset that appreciates humility, simplicity and frugality as routes to tranquility and contentment. ‘Sabi’ has come to communicate a deep and tranquil beauty that emerges with the passage of time. In line with this ‘less is more’ aesthetic the aim of my photographic practice is to invite the viewer to contemplate and meditate on the extraordinary beauty and simplicity of ordinary objects.

The search and acquisition of objects for my still life photographs, (from personal collections, antique bazaars and opportunity shops), is intrinsic to my artistic process. Finding pre-loved possessions for inclusion in my still lifes gives those static, inanimate objects a personal history. I try to animate the inanimate to convey a narrative about their owners.

still light : vanitas reimagined – an exhibition by maria gravias
Maria Gravias – Ascending Seraphic Blackbird (Turdus Merula) – [CLICK to enlarge]

The concept of reuse of objects is also embedded in wabi-sabi—the aesthetic that is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. We often dismiss the banal and my photographic imagery iconises those everyday objects and elevates them to command respect from the viewer. In recent times I have concentrated on the ‘tondo’ format, a Renaissance term used to describe a circular work of art. Circles are symbolic and speak of the cycle of life. In nature everything is circuitous—life, death, rebirth. 

Maria Gravias – Decaying Double Tulips in Pewter Tankard – [CLICK to enlarge]

My work also strongly references the art historical and pays homage to the long-standing, respected tradition of the still life genre. Seventeenth century Dutch still life painting and the Vanitas tradition are my principal sources of inspiration. Vanitas still lifes include objects with symbolic importance, which convey a narrative through their symbolism and highlight the fragility and transience of human existence. My photographic practice embraces and alchemises the conventions and practices of the still life genre to make visually engaging and contemporary photographic art.

I utilise only natural light in my photographic practice. I feel that it reinforces the verisimilitude of the images and is reminiscent of the Dutch Golden Age when 16th and 17th century painters were fascinated with natural light and its optical effects, such as reflection and refraction, on lustrous surfaces and highly polished surfaces like silver, pewter and glass. Some might see the use of natural light as a constraint but I think it puts me in touch with the original Dutch still life painters who only ever utilised natural light. I’m also intrigued with the trajectory of light and the play of light on surfaces and chiaroscuro in particular—a canonical mode of Renaissance painting, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark creating mood and mystery and spatial depth.

still light : vanitas reimagined – an exhibition by maria gravias
Maria Gravias – Shells on Pink Marble Plinth – [CLICK to enlarge]

In my compositions selected objects are arranged theatrically and as advantageously as possible to capture the viewer’s attention. Seventeenth century Dutch still lifes, as mentioned, were imbued with symbolism—and there were sophisticated ciphers that the educated and cultured viewer was expected to decode. This genre offered opportunities for both moral contemplation, academic and even scientific study. Fruit and vegetables, for example, generally symbolise the ephemerality of existence—life and beauty are fleeting. My artistic goal is to capture and convey that ephemeral beauty—for what is life without beauty?”

This is a most powerful exhibition, and leaves the observer with a feeling of wonderment at both the form and style of the works, and, the power and skill of the artist.

A must see exhibition!




Maria Gravias, August 2022



A series of photographs taken on the night. [Each can be enlarged by clicking on the picture]


Samuel See joins another invited guest in appreciating Maria’s work

Maria and guests

Glyn Mason (right) was one of a number of Melbourne notable musicians in attendance

Jenny and Chris Stockey

Mick Hamilton and Lynne Thorpe
[Right to left] – Maria Gravias; Christine James; Judy Aldrich & Pat Wilson

This review was written by:

Rob Greaves – [Senior Editor: Toorak Times]





  • Oceania Luxury Travel Co Luxury Travel Australia Banner 728x90 1