Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meet Your Maker: Jennie Stewart

On July 16th you will open your show “Landscapes and Longings” at Stockroom. What is the show about?

All art is a means of making public a personal obsession. It seems that my obsession is with the landscape. It’s difficult to explain why an artist does what they do – it’s hardly a rational thing. These paintings represent years of fiddling around trying to express something, presumably meaningful, about my interest in the landscape. They also represent years of looking and thinking about other peoples’ art. On a ridiculously basic level, of course they are simply daubs of coloured paint on canvas. I’m more than happy for the viewer to decide.

What inspires you?

Other artists who have remained true to their vision and who have persistently worked to realise their vision.

Exhibiting since 1994, with tertiary qualifications in both Visual and Fine Arts; could you imagine dedicating your life to anything else but art?

My first qualification was is in political and social theory, but I’m not convinced that what you do or have done is as important as how you do it. It’s the passion that’s important. No matter what your calling, if you carry through with conviction, energy and integrity then that’s sufficient to provide meaning in life. So, should a new interest emerge for me that demanded my undivided attention then of course I would have no option to pursue it with the same qualities I outlined above.

“Be true to your passion” is what I say. Incidentally, I recently had cause to research the etymology of the word passion. It is interesting to note that passion comes from the same latin root as patience: pati . And it doesn’t mean to flow with exuberance, it means to suffer.

What are the challenges you have faced as an artist?

Finding time for my art is the greatest challenge. Having raised a family and worked for a living, I am fully conscious of the demands of modern life. The biggest challenge for me is to ensure that art making is a priority. I rarely succeed with this. I am resigned to painting intermittently and sometimes weeks go by and I haven’t lifted a brush. I just have to accept this situation.

How do you know when a work is “done”?

A work is “done” or “resolved” when it no longer irritates me. It is an ineffable thing, this “finished work” business. I think it’s a bit like magic.

You grew up in regional Victoria. How does this influence the themes of your work and the materials you choose?

My memories of growing up on a farm on the plains of western Victoria sustain a great deal of my imagery. It was quite a revelation when I realised that the mountain shape that keeps recurring in my current set of paintings is, of course, Mt Elephant. Or is it Mt. Leura, Mt Myrtoon, or the Wirigil Hills, Mt Porndon, or Mt Noorat…all of which were visible from my home.

The dramatic west coast near Port Campbell is also of special importance. My grandmother’s family were pioneers there and I am compelled to return to that region. It has a magnetic pull that I am more than willing to submit to. I sometimes drive there and back in a day in order to satisfy a type of yearning, hence the “longing” in the title of this show.

What does a space like Stockroom do for regional art?

Places like Stockroom challenge the predominant notion that art practice in regional areas is somehow parasitic or in thrall to the authority of the city. Certainly, artists living and practicing outside of the city experience a sense of difference that sets them apart from their city colleagues but it is unhelpful to dwell on these differences or to set up false dichotomies between city and regional artists.

Places like Stockroom give expression to the way art interfaces with its community. I applaud Stockroom for its faith in regional artists and its celebration of art that arises out of a commitment to a specific area.

What do you long for?

My landscapes embody a longing for the vast open spaces where I feel most at ease. I long also for an appreciation of the landscape as a vital subject of artistic concern. But mostly I long for the time and space where I can paint and draw to my heart’s content.

'Landscapes and Longings' will show at Stockroom July 16 - August 14.