Tuesday, November 27, 2012

JESSE EYNON - MIDLANDS History & The senses

A Preview of Paintings
Oatlands Gaol
27 October – 1 November 2012

By Lucy Wilson

Jesse Eynon chose to paint the Tasmanian Midlands for the light, its theatrical light. From her Cygnet studio she liberated herself by packing just what she needed to embark on a six-week Tas Regional Arts residency based in Oatlands. Having surrendered to the demands of mothering three children, the youngest now being six, she left her family behind to devote herself purely to painting.

It takes Jesse a long time to find a fragment in the world she wants to paint. She always knows when she finds it. It speaks to her gut instinct. The fragments she found were stretches of road, moments in cloudscapes, archetypal images like a man walking with dog, and old town buildings. The images she exhibited in Oatlands speak of a powerful meeting between her paintbrush and the fragments she found – almost as if they’d been waiting to be painted by her.        

Jesse paints what we see but in a way that our heart sees it. On relatively small canvases (12”x14”) she captures light in a way that harnesses the feeling of the scene – from a bitterly cold morning or the golden dreaminess of late afternoon or a dazzling cloud. Her paintings are remarkably effective in touching the viewer and evoking something within us. She does so with a profound understanding of how colour mixes, how paint works and mastery of the undefinable balance of shapes. She talks about the “shapes, sizes and weight” of a composition. What is the weight? It’s the gravity of the parts. The relationship between parts lies in the way paint butts up against itself. It’s an infinite variation of conflict and harmony, and the grey area between.”

To work `en plein air’ is appealing to Jesse, but the reality of the extreme cold and notorious winds of the Midlands winter means she chose to paint indoors. The process starts outdoors though with small detailed drawings. She also takes photographs but explains they have much less information than the naked eye.

While Jesse is hesitant to explain her painting method as traditional, wary of the implications of what `traditional’ means, she says, “Getting a painting to work is about resolving a lot of abstract elements and forces”. She paints left-handed using brushes that are too big so it encourages her to generalise and play the big components off each other. As important as the paint going on, in her right hand she holds a rag and takes it off. With the forces of skill, high intelligence, intuition and palpable style, Jesse is free to make a lot of changes and rapid adjustments while she paints. Sometimes she mixes her palette up to ten times; sometimes she scrapes a feature off half a dozen times until she gets it right. All the while she doesn’t let the paint get too layered and troublesome and keeps her canvases clean with the paints varying thick and thinness. She does lose sense of time though, as she enters the visual and sensory experience of colouring and shaping fragments. There’s no thought, there’s just the doing, the hands, the brush, the paint and rag.

Up close some of the images are almost indiscernible in rich and luscious colour and shape. But at a distance the whole landscape comes alive and into focus. The atmospheres in the highway paintings and cloudscapes are so evocative that I’m held in their moving moment. They tap into my childhood memories of country road trips with sweeping contours and light a-dappled or a-blaze, the relationship of land and sky and dreamy transience.

I arrived in Oatlands the night before Jesse took down the exhibition. We had a Closing, with a glass of red from the Opening. It was wonderful to sit with her paintings and engage with her intensity and worldliness. Like the other seventy or so people who visited from around Tasmania, I want to live with her paintings. Most of the works could have sold many times over. The exciting thing is, Jesse is inspired and there’s more to come.


Part of the experience of visiting Jesse and her paintings in Oatlands (about half between Hobart and Launceston), was the journey to get there. Oatlands is a significant old Tasmanian town, now bypassed by the Midlands Highway, with 107 heritage-listed buildings. It’s not kitsch with history but is well preserved. In the Old Gaoler’s House where Jesse stayed and painted, is a hub of archaeology. It’s set up for accommodating visiting archaeologists while they study the human activity of colonial settlement through recovering artefacts from shards of glass to fabric fragments, analysing, labelling and cataloguing them. Clearly huge resources are focused on recognising this heritage of Non-Aboriginal Australia over the past 200 odd years.

The major route from Hobart to Oatlands is on the recently made controversial Brighton bypass, over the Jordan River Levee bank near Brighton. The earth there contains a unique undisturbed archaeological record trapped between layers of silt from the repeated flooding of the river. In one meter of soil Aboriginal stone artefacts and tools are recorded, going back from 200 years to 20,000 to 40,000 years, encompassing two ice ages.

While archaeological work is valuable for any community, I can’t help feel the sharp pang of injustice and disrespect from the dominant Non-Aboriginal society towards Aboriginal heritage. The hypocrisy turns my stomach.

Jesse’s work is not about those issues but it was part of the adventure of visiting this regional exhibition, and left me pondering the layers of history in the silt at Brighton, the history in the bricks, buildings and under the floor in Oatlands, and in the layers of paint on Jesse’s canvasses. After all, she called her exhibition History & The Senses.

(Photos of paintings will be posted soon...watch this space...)

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