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Arthouse Gallery, Sydney


INSERT //// Jo Davenport’s visceral oil paintings inhabit the liminal space between the fading past and the emerging future through their colourful invocation of the landscape. For Davenport, the notion of space is not defined by perspectival strictures but conceived as a meditative resting place between the real and the imagined. Through layered colour, impulsive mark making and refined erasure, the artist brings the transient into view, conjuring the complexities of memory and representation. This mnemonic and tectonic construction of the image spawns an abstraction that conveys both an intellectual and sensual way of experiencing the landscape. Instead of dwelling on grand Romantic narratives surrounding the sublimity of nature, Davenport’s work considers the fragility and intimacy of the landscape and its inextricable relationship to our emotions and memories.

Created during a residency at Hill End, Davenport’s new series of abstracted works on paper draws from the visual language of cartography. The artist’s fascination with map-making began in 2009 after spending three months in the desert and learning about ‘singing country’ from the stories of an Aboriginal woman. ‘I realised that her songs were verbal maps’ says Davenport. On her recent Hill End residency, the artist studied the early geological maps of the area, talked to the locals, (who invited her into their homes and showed Davenport maps they owned), visited many of the sites on the maps and listened to old stories about Hill End and the history of gold in the area. 

Part science, part artistic design, the map encompasses a range of different graphic expressions – whether printed on paper, chiseled on a stone, painted on an animal skin or viewed on a computer screen. The works in ‘Mapping Hill End’ consider the cartographic image’s intricate and abstract visual elements as material interpretations of space. They explore how maps connect the physical world and, increasingly, the digital world, with human consciousness, nurturing a dialogue between internal and eternal landscapes. Working with paper – a befitting cartographic material – the artist considers the artistic currency of maps as both analytical tools and aesthetic objects, calling into question what makes an abstract rendering into a map and, likewise, what makes a map an artwork. Rather than working towards a preconceived image, Davenport uses paint to search for the map – an ironic twist of the map’s typical function as guide – which gradually emerges like a quiet revelation. Moving away from topographical and physical representations, the paintings ultimately map the emotions associated with ‘being in’ the landscape: the sensuality of a flowing river, weighty reflections in water, the scent of impending rain, the warmth of the midday sun and cool shimmers of morning light. 

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