new works 2013: chainsaw woodcuts; works on paper | 2013

Exhibition at Langford 120, Melbourne, April 2013

Janet McKenzie. Palm Sunday I Janet McKenzie. Palm Sunday II Janet McKenzie. Palm Sunday III
Janet McKenzie. Palm Sunday IV, 2013 Janet McKenzie. Poisoned Earth II, 2013
Janet McKenzie. Vestiges, 2013  

A suite of seven chainsaw woodcuts were made in January 2013 for Janet McKenzie’s exhibition Embarkation: Drawing on Two Worlds, at Langford 120 Gallery in Melbourne. With Arthur Watson’s technical expertise and assistance they were made using three blocks of plywood, onto which drawn images based on the painting Head On (2008) were created in graphite. Vestiges required one wood block cut using a router woodworking tool; the Palm Sunday I-IV suite employed two blocks: the first created using the router (from which Vestiges was printed as a separate image) and the other with a chainsaw. Poisoned Earth I and II employ a separate block (the 2 titles refers only to the variation in ink and paper used) where the image is made with the free movement of the chainsaw over the wood block (no drawn image) and a small electric engraving tool for fine lines. 

In Head On, the poet Christopher Rush had observed a hellish tangle, “Here are trees, cathedrals, phalluses, swords, flints, Stone Age daggers – those very broad, crude weapons of war. It’s a battle scene. It’s a hymn to primitive virility. It’s a burnt-out wood that will rise again – with sexual and religious connotations”.  The use of gold leaf in the original painting Rush connects with the medieval gold leaf used by monkish illuminators: the colour which (along with blue) always represented eternity in early medieval painting. The chainsaw woodcuts exude the same battlefield mentality but ironically also a quiet strength (perhaps due to the muted blue greys) and express a more minimal poised statement. Martin Kemp observed their “dynamism and spacious” quality: “They give a new slant to the term woodcut!”

The titles that include Vestiges, Palm Sunday and Poisoned Earth, form a continuation of the Falling House series of 2008, images seemingly shorn of hope; they also pay homage to the inspirational exhibition of Anselm Kiefer's work at at White Cube, London in 2007, which McKenzie reviewed for Studio International.  'Aperiatur Terra', takes a quote from the Book of Isaiah as its title and, in doing so, conjures images of destruction and re-creation, apocalyptic trauma and spiritual renewal with originality and drama. 'Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem, et institia oriatur simul' translates as, 'Let the earth be opened and bud forth a saviour, and let justice spring up at the same time'.
Kiefer is clearly aware that in both pagan and early Christian iconography, the palm was an immortal tree - its sword-like branches never died. The palm was, 'The traditional Greco-Roman symbol of military triumph, which was adapted by early Christianity as a sign of Christ's victory over death and rapidly expanded, under persecution, to serve as a universal emblem of martyrdom'. When a limb falls, new sheaths bud. Kiefer’s imagery is very much akin to Christopher Rush’s observations of the 2008 paintings by Janet McKenzie, made independent of the Kiefer work.

The 2013 chainsaw woodcuts were shown with new works on paper (2013) as well as referential works from the 1980s including Sanctuary (1984) and Equinox (1984), both of which have recently been acquired by the Gippsland Regional Gallery, Victoria, Australia gifted by the Estate of Patricia White, 2013.