An Intimate Landscape
Arthouse Gallery, Sydney
Only artists who surrender to the paint’s sovereignty can become liberated from it. If the brush, the palette and the myriad colours are Jo Davenport’s hardest task-masters, then she has also made them her allies. Time and uncertainty are the defining principles of this artist’s work. These are ideas informed by her experience of bush life in the valley at Splitters Creek, outside Albury, NSW. Here, the temporal and random elements of nature exist without the necessity of human witness. Davenport has made this idyll her home and studio. The sensual elements of the running river, the chatter of birds, the still reflections on the lagoon, the smell of pending rain, cool glimmers of morning or the heat of the midday sun create a sanctuary for thought and creativity.
This physical or natural realm is not immediately apparent in Davenport’s paintings, which are an abstracted cavalcade of enriching colour and energetic form. However, the rhythms of natural life aid the artist’s process, which begins with that scallywag of human thinking…randomness. The Belgian linen is primed with rabbit skin glue. The first marks are poured and then dripped from side to side, by lifting edges of the canvas. This repetitive motion creates the cross-lines or gridded patterns, which are evident at a deep level in the ground of the composition. The subjectile force of these deep marks project outwards towards the viewer. These immediate and arbitrary first marks are the unreliable scaffolding of the painting.
These early formations are unreliable, in the sense that nature’s cycles and patterns are impossible to restrain within the confines of a painting. Davenport accepts our collective human inability to make sense of the exquisite beauty of nature, and instead pays innocent homage to it. Hers is a joyous reflection, a vibrant and vigorous prayer of painted lines. These gridded forms are also unreliable because they appear structural but are only a reminder of impossible futures and uncertain prospects ahead. Time is a curious problem for Davenport. She wishes to capture time and enclose it in her work, and yet she celebrates the endless uncertainty of the next moment. The artist likes the undetermined horizon, a prominent feature in many of her paintings, because the viewer is not sure where the sky starts and the land ends.
Many of Davenport’s painted marks are lines. Like contour maps, each of the lines enacts a feature of the earth, as it shifts and undulates in multiple directions. Maps have been an important interest for the artist, who has made drawings of maps in the past. She says, “we find ourselves through map-making. Lines on a map anchor us in this world.” Naturally, the process of interpreting form, through brushed lines, brings up an issue of negative space. The voids are the connective tissue. Davenport enjoys the manner in which voids are never empty but are full of possibility, and memory. Her paintings brim with full-hearted passion and a sense of the glorious state of living. These are paintings that anticipate a hopeful future, an expectation of bounty.
- 'An Intimate Landscape' Catalogue Essay by Prue Gibson, Arthouse Gallery, 2015