Although Kolbe’s intent is not to reference specific times and places, her visual memory draws on a spectrum of closely-observed urban surfaces. For instance, the history-laden patinas on city walls – alluring colours scratched and distressed – are irresistible. Kolbe brings together her aesthetic love of such found, ‘accidental’ beauty and the inner dialogue which apprehends it. She seems to capture from the past and the quotidian present, the complex traces that make up the essence of a place: accretions of human markings joined with invisible overlays of thought and emotion.

Into this realm comes the clarion influence of poetry. Kolbe’s mother was a poet who experienced the cataclysmic upheaval of the Second World War, with removal to South Africa an unplanned consequence. The balm and discipline of poetry helped Ilse Zuidema come to terms with her unease in an alien place; remarkably, Zuidema’s second language of English became the successful vehicle that reshaped her destiny as a poet in the world. Ten years after her mother’s death, Ursula Kolbe has found a personal way of honouring a legacy of heart and mind – the gift of her mother’s words. Kolbe’s recent paintings enact the abstract thinking process that enables the conversion of thought into verse and image.

The resulting works of quiet conviction are given titles which understate their impact. The painting Unshed Rain I, for instance, suggests a balance of latent moisture and the pressure of foggy white smoke, with the ache of drought so potent here it makes our ‘reading’, at this time in Australia, most pertinent. Unshed Rain II contains a suspension of words within rusty-golden Turner skies, tinged with throbbing soft, blue-grey hazes. Poet in the World: Morning I, with its cloud fragments configuring themselves into words is emblematic in this show, and similarly, Poet in the World: Morning II presents a word-drift across a landscape of ambiguity. Sometimes it is the almost-opaque blocks of cursive script, sometimes the subtle hues of shade and light that form theatrical scrims in Kolbe’s images, and sometimes a coalescence of words form more solid statements, like the hovering golden cloud bearing portent in Another Horizon.

Despite her imagery attracting these concrete associations, it is Kolbe’s ability to tap the metaphysical world that singles out her achievement. This world surely unites Kolbe with her mother. For in the title Between Words and Image, it is the ‘between’ that marks the shared exploration by mother and daughter, of poetic words and their transformative meaning.

Finally then, mutual inner experience transforms the longing born of immigrant dislocation into the greater expressive project of being artists in the world; artists bonded by ‘the relief of words’.
Ingrid Hoffmann, Arts writer, July 2008