A Natural Response
Flinders Lane Gallery
14 July - 1 August 2015
What any work of art demands of us, if we are fully to take it in, is the gathering of all our powers of looking and listening, understanding, feeling. But in this intense concentration on the object we also experience, paradoxically it might seem, a heightened awareness of our own energy and presence. Extract from Being There by David Malouf, 2015
David Malouf’s words articulate an essential experience of art. It may be difficult, for a less accomplished wordsmith than Malouf, to evoke adequately an experience that is more individual than universal. However, it strikes me that his description of the gathering and awareness is also broadly applicable to the experience of nature.
Her immediate natural environment, humanity and culture are combined in abstract paintings by Jo Davenport. Describing her process, she suggested, “It starts with the earth”. These highly coloured, often calligraphically-marked and spacious canvases, harness the felt experience of place, evoking a strong sense of being in the landscape. Her lifelong immersion in the country, living in the town of Albury (on the border of Victoria and New South Wales), has made relationship with place her subject and mode of expression. While her reference to the earth was a description of the way she grounds her raw Belgian linen canvases, priming them with rabbit skin glue, it notes too the environment which sees her reaching for an expression of an internal landscape defined by place.
After grounding the canvases, paint and colour is applied in layers, while she awaits an almost alchemical emergence of the image. “Slowly I can see things and I follow.” The impact of place is at once subtle and all pervasive, as is the scale of her work - large enough to embrace the viewer in an expression of the sublime within the tangible.
While involved in creative pursuits all her adult life, Davenport did not complete her MA in Fine Arts until 2011. Since then sell-out exhibitions at Flinders Lane Gallery have been matched with similar results in Sydney. In 2013 her work was included in “Action/Abstraction”, a prestigious exhibition at Wangaratta Regional Gallery that profiled the work of four of Australia’s leading abstract painters (Sally Gabori, Todd Hunter, Ildiko Kovacs and Aida Tomescu).
However, Davenport’s discussions of her journey toward the artistic career that now sees her in the studio some six days each week are also an expression of the intangibility and sensory expression that place may offer. A daily walk to Nouriel Park on the Murray River is evident in River (2015), which takes in the verticality of the weeping willows at the river’s edge and their ability to overshadow the horizon, alongside an internal space that harnesses the gentle movement of the water, the trees and a place to dream. Reflections of a Fading Sky (2015) also speaks to the varied experience of the river, the water a mirror for a state of mind, with patches of intensity and a glorying in the jagged ephemerality of the moment.
Davenport noted, “I am not trying to record what is physically there but more a layering of emotions. My paintings sit somewhere between abstraction and representation, but it’s not always about the sublime greatness of the landscape; it may also evoke its fragility and intimacy.”
Accordingly, these images offer up immense variety, a sensory experience of being there that is at once universal and individual.
- 'A Natural Response' Catalogue Essay by Louise Martin-Chew, Flinders Lane Gallery, 2015