The Nature of Landscape
Flinders Lane Gallery
25th September 2018 - 20th October
“The landscape gives me so much pleasure, and I do feel a part of it.”[i] This simple statement made by Jo Davenport goes to the heart of her artistic practice, and her way of viewing the natural world. Davenport is well known for her exuberantly coloured, gestural abstract paintings having exhibited regularly and with great success in Sydney and Melbourne since 2012. But to regard her work as pure abstraction along the lines of the mid-century Modernism is to disregard the driving force behind it. Namely, the artist’s deep connection to place, and her determination to translate what she refers to as the ‘felt experience’ into the tangible matter of oil on canvas.
The particular place that inspires Davenport’s work is the region around Albury in Victoria, and the natural watercourses of Splitters Creek, the Murray River and the Wonga Wetlands that flow through it, which are all on the artist’s doorstep. A response to her local environment has long underpinned Davenport’s creative output, this exhibition forms a particularly poignant expression of landscape as experienced from the vantage point of the house, studio and garden of her farmhouse property. It was twenty years ago when Davenport and her husband made the move from town to countryside, building a farmhouse from scratch. The current exhibition marks the final body of work painted from this property, having just relocated from this much loved home. For an artist very much tied to her surroundings, this marks a significant shift, opening up new possibilities and ground to cover.
However for now Davenport pays homage to this place, communicated tacitly through a palette that is perhaps even more vivid and celebratory than in previous years. In Davenport’s work the landscape is positioned less as a passive subject, and more like a dynamic collaborator in the creation of her art. She speaks of the infinite, shining moments of light and colour that occur in nature, that a quick photo can never adequately capture. The endless flux of the natural world, and the incredible moments of beauty that it so frequently presents, provide both the inspiration and the challenge that underpins her practice.
For Davenport painting is an intensely physical activity. Canvases are first primed with rabbit skin glue, a traditional method commonly used in the Renaissance to treat canvas or raw Belgian linen, Davenport’s material of choice. Onto this surface the artist applies oils, building up layers that visually interact in unique and surprising ways. Painting, dripping, pouring onto the stretched canvases – works are laid flat on the ground, then put upright, then down again as the artist works with the materials to pull out an image that encapsulates the emotive sensation she wishes to convey. Her line-work is strong, bold, and calligraphic in brevity. In this she looks to the Japanese masters of calligraphy who will ponder a work for hours with a loaded brush, before making one strong and sure mark.[ii] Indeed, Davenport claims that only 10% of the time spent in her studio is spent painting, the remaining 90% is spent looking, weighing up the next move, or mark, on the canvas.
The result of this process is a satisfying balance between open fields of colour, alongside dense areas of vigorous marks. Compositional harmony is achieved, yet the works still retains their sense of freedom and spontaneity. Through colour, gesture, line and texture, Davenport imbues her paintings with the pleasure she derives from the landscape itself, and perhaps this is the source of their timeless appeal.
- Excerpt from 2018 monograph catalogue essayby Marguerite Brown. Marguerite Brown is an independent art writer and curator.