works: painting and etching | 2009–2011


Small Loch, Osgood Suite, (2011) Mountain and Loch (i) Mountain and Loch (ii), (2009)
Mountain and Loch (iii) (2009) Embarkation, (2011) Melbourne to Canberra, (2008)
Untitled (After Australia) (2009) Untitled II (After Australia) (2009) Untitled II (After Australia) (2009)
Untitled IV (After Australia) (2009) Family, (2011) Recovery, (2009)
Sand Dunes, Spring, (2011) Sand Dunes, Wild Flowers, (2011) Memory of Frenches’ Narrow, (2011)
Beach Storm, (2011) Transfigure, (2011) Night Loch, (2011)
Wormiston Sea View, (2011) Storm at Sea, Wormiston, (2011) Within, (2010)
Minutiae, I, (2011) Minutiae II, (2011) Minutiae III (2011)
Minutiae IV (2011) Serendipity, (2009) Map, (2008–11)

Spring 2010 followed a severe, long winter with storms that destroyed the sand dunes on St Andrews beach and blew the roof off the studio at Wormiston. Greater intensity of colour and light resulted in dramatic sea and skies. Photographer Nick Howard observed: “it’s been a very concentrated late spring – many things in perfect bloom simultaneously that normally only just overlap – pristine bluebells and buttercups next to each other; forget-me-nots everywhere, the whole country blushing with campion, more dandelions than I’ve ever seen”. Drawing from nature would normally precipitate steady progress but this year the season seemed quite elusive.

It was not in fact until Spring 2011 that these observations found form. Spending a day in a studio in Peckham with Maryclare Foà introduced work methods that liberated Janet McKenzie’s studio practice, namely monotypes with collage, painting and drawing overlaid. A week later she met the Chinese poet Yang Lian, who was visiting St Andrews for the poetry festival, Stanza. Like her, Yang Lian uses the metaphors of the sea and birds, flowers, rivers, clouds. In his essay, “A Wild Goose Speaks to me” he explains: “The poet - archaeologist, as if uncovering layer upon layer of earth, seeks the ever more deeply hidden self, and the poem, like an archaeological manual, records the experience of excavating ever deeper within one site”.

The 2010–11 winter was the coldest in recorded history. At Wormiston Wood, which was snow bound for over a month some 200 wild geese found refuge in the field next to the house. Yang Lian’s idea of “sharing the voyage of every navigator since the dawn of time” McKenzie felt, was in contrast to the fractured experience of Postmodernism that has dominated Western culture since the 1970s. “My poems and essays, your painting and writing, all seek the very essence of being human through Nature. They are an attempt to transcend ourselves.”

Yang Lian’s essay, “The Poetics of Space” resonated for Janet McKenzie: “What true poet who touches upon the nature of poetry is not in spiritual exile?”  The notion of exile as such being a necessity for the observation of human experience enabled her to view her ‘exile from normality’ as having positive ramifications for her studio practice. “Drawing on Two Worlds” (2010-) after all asserts:  “Art is key to the cultural and spiritual rebuilding of lives that have been damaged through cultural diaspora and loss.” Hand-written on a sketchbook page, Yang Lian’s words: ‘the journey towards the dark blue sea’, from Where the Sea Stands Still, 1999, enabled the initial production of 12 new works. Where the Sea Stands Still was written in Sydney looking towards the Pacific Ocean, after five years in exile there. It seemed appropriate to use the North Sea, which she overlooks, both to North and to South becomes a metaphor for the spiritual journey poets and artists make through life.

Embarkation (2010–11) is constructed with broad broken bands of oil paint on canvas, a progression from watercolour works produced whilst travelling in Australia, in October 2008. Painted using pigment and water in response to drought stricken land observed from the air, they refer at once to solitude and freedom from familial responsibilities, (being away from home for the first time in eight years) brings a sense of detachment and awe.  Asserting ownership of the experience through mark making, assuaged the implied grief. Michael Spens observed their resemblance to “deconstructed Rothko’s” which was tantamount to a fractured belief in ‘redemption through form’. A ‘Placeless Heaven’ that Seamus Heaney describes was then consciously sought through the application of marks, figures and symbols from nature. Untitled (after Australia) (i-v) had already been made using watercolour, and ink in the same sketchbook as Melbourne to Canberra (2008). The series in oil is ongoing and is more assured and elegant by virtue of size. The influence of Mimmo Paladino’s work is clearly expressed with floating heads, where mark making is emphasised.

In the ongoing series, Minutiae, 10-inch diameter circular canvases were chosen to represent a photographic lens, to zoom in on details from existing paintings, particularly the series, We are only undefeated because we have gone on trying, (2007). Referring as well to computer-style manipulation in digital photography, to molecules of a larger organism, they examine the artist’s process in relation to visual language, both fragmentary and holistic.

Maps I-III, (2009-11) are part of a series that evolved from the paintings made in 2008 including: Burning; Falling House; Void and Head On, using wood ash and other found matter from Wormiston Wood. The 2008 works served to confront and assuage a sense of impending loss. The creative process and dialogue with certain artist friends and her three daughters in turn enabled the definition of a new place, where hope was located and enjoyed. The preoccupation with dolls, puppets, birds and mythical creatures from when her girls were babies in turn precipitated a series of work late in 2011, where fantasy, childhood, dreams, in a mysterious but life-affirming manner now establish a narrative to deal with ongoing contradictions. Working in pastel, etching, collage, and adopting a more figurative style inspired by Paula Rego, Mirka Mora and John Bellany will enable celebratory works informed by loss.