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Jennifer McDuff’s recent exhibition had a specific seasonal timbre. Bark Paintings and Other Workds on Paper was not, as the title may suggest, an eccentric excursion into the folksy practice of bark ‘arranging’, but rather, a sustained and contemplative journey into time and its passing. Like much of her previous work, McDuff’s mixed media drawings are triggered by observed fragments, processes and often banal objects which provided the motifs for her richly layered, painterly works.
In notes to the exhibition, the McDuff asks why an artist might ‘…interpret the ordinary seasonal time when the Moreton Bay ash sheds its bark?’ In McDuff’s case the metaphor of peeling bar provides a space for the echo of memory and incident. The process, by contrast, is a natural seasonal shedding of one layer of protection to make way for another. A cyclical process which in many ways reflects the artist’s working methods of secreting, overlaying and building up layers.
A nine meter drawing formed the focal point of the exhibition with six accompanying works exploring similar but discrete concerns. The process of constructing a drawing of this size contains its own challenges and rewards: the challenged being to give the work unity without simple repetition; the reward its mantra-like rhythm of marks and gestures. This size provides less a traditional ‘window’ to frame a single vision than a vista or a ‘scrape’, negotiated through a bodily process of drawing: the illusion of space gives way to an invocation of time through the process of its making.
The six accompanying works, including two ‘boxed’ emblems of the artist’s familial history (a fur and a cape belongs to her moth and her grandmother) added to the sense of accumulated imagery and fragments. A series of drawings in oil stick, bitumen, and ink captured the fleeting phenomena of light, texture and the luminescent blue that only the combination of the ocean and sky can produce. Making use of resist techniques, spattered ink and gestural marks, the drawing oscillated between abstraction and nocturnal landscapes.
As an artist deeply involved with process and the nature of materials, Jennifer McDuff infuses the intensively worked surfaces of her work with personal symbolism that whispers and murmurs – a quiet, understated response to the mystery and beauty of an ordinary life-like peeling back.