17 April - 19 May 2018
This year marks 50 years since The Field 1968, an exhibition in which JANET DAWSON, a leading abstract and figurative painter, was one of only three female artists selected to take part. And as the National Gallery marks this milestone with The Field Revisited it seems fitting to survey the resonate work of DAWSON.
Heralding the survey, Shadows no.2 (1974) is hard to resist. It is magnetic in the way that it pulses with DAWSON’s adept colour play, creating depth and optical movement.
The significant shifts of focus and examination in the subject matter of DAWSON’s work over the last forty-six years parallel her life in the bush. Shadow Play no.2 was created the same year as her initial move from the city to ‘Scribble Rock’ near Binalong in 1974. Living within nature, as Deborah Edward’s outlines, scintillated DAWSON’s vision and through this spatial ambiguity embraced more fertile metaphoric ground.[i] For DAWSON her expansive colour paintings mapped her responses to the bush – such as the spiralling bark in opposition to the form of the gums – noting that what she perceived in nature reinforced the ways in which she had explored oppositional relationships of form, space, and light.
Moving in leaps and bounds we reach DAWSON’s work from the nineties and what occupies her eye in the present. Her smaller still life and landscapes continue her exploration of the processes of perception. Created after DAWSON moved to a small cottage in nearby Binalong, her pastel works explored the shift in scale and proportion of the trees. This ongoing desire to explore and expose the resonance of a place emerges in her most recent works of the coastal landscape and skies in Southern Victoria where she now lives.
Whether figurative or abstract, DAWSON’s focus is to enquire and deconstruct the world around her. What was once a cabbage or an eggshell is evaluated by DAWSON and reconstructed. Cut-half Green Cabbage with Leaves I showcases a luminous cabbage on its paper stage. Boldly lit up from the swirling darkness it is supported by a chorus of dancing lines that resonate with the surrounding energy as perceived by DAWSON. Returned to over a period of seven years, in her work DAWSON moves cyclically, seemingly unfazed by the passing of time.
This examination of the structures of the visual world, the real and unreal connects DAWSON’s abstract and figurative work. As the artist states, “some artists have a courageous acceptance of how things look and accept the retinal image. I can’t do that – I have to express what I know.”
[i] Deborah Edwards, “Janet Dawson: On Curiosity, Ambiguity and Attachment”, Janet Dawson Survey 1953 - 2006, 38.