Coming off her solo exhibition at St Vincent's, Jane Bennett kindly made
time to discuss her art with Joanna.
Taking control, Jane steered away from preliminary questions. She
immediately set to explaining the methods and motives that shape her art.
With the hurry of a plein air painter who faces a setting sun, she shared
everything she could - with passion and class. Joanna hopes one day to
talk to Jane again.
Joanna:I'm looking at your charcoal drawing "Industrial Cathedral".
What amazes me is the attention to detail in every square centimetre. Another
example is "Millers Point from top of Harbour Tower." How do you manage all the details?
It would take me many hours studying the scene just to notice half as many, let
alone paint them.
Jane:My method of work, which is plein air painting, involves spending untold
hours in front of whichever subject I am painting, watching how the light changes. More and
more details are revealed with time - it can be hypnotic.
Joanna:Looking at "Sydney Harbour Tower from Wharf 8, Barangaroo", I can "see the air." How do
you manage that effect?
I think that is a lovely turn of phrase and a real compliment! The answer is pursuant to my first
response and the plein air method. I've spent years watching shadows creep from left to right and lengthen as the pale calm
early morning colours transform into deeper, richer afternoon hues, or observing light and shadows in the clouds
as they change minute to minute. There is no shortcut to the developing the technique. Eventually, the air
becomes tangible, even paintable.
I've noticed a range of styles and subjects in your blogs, but you seem to be centred on realism and on derelict
industrial sites. Are the style and the subject connected, and what draws you to that subject?
One of the most radical changes of my lifetime is the decline and fall of Sydney's Working Harbour, the end of almost our entire manufacturing industry and the wholesale destruction of any vestiges of its existence. The consequences of these events will be far reaching but no other artist has really explored this theme. The pace of demolition of the industrial sites in which I paint has increased frantically. Often, my artwork is the only record of these areas, so I try to render them as realistically as possible. The realism comes from a desire to preserve history.
Working on location - do you enjoy people watching you work?
Yes, I do. The audience usually know more about the subject I'm painting than I do, of course, because I'm painting in their neighborhood. From them, I get to learn the fascinating hidden history of my own city. Their expertise really helps my work: they can often throw some light on an apparently insignificant detail, and then I become fascinated with the back story and adjust my painting to incorporate what I've learned from them. The more history I learn about the site, the more completely I can evoke the "spirit of the place".
I've noticed several places in your blogs where you explore the precise definition(s) of a word. Do you love words and writing as much as you love art?
I would love to have the same ability with words as with paint. I often find myself searching for the right word to convey a thought, and wander down an interesting sidetrack along the way. When I look up a word I am often struck by puns, irony or unexpected shades of meaning. Also, sometimes I am painting in a politically sensitive area and I have to hint at undercurrents of meaning and choose my words carefully if I still want to have access to the site.
Definitely I hear you there, Jane.
Now to the next question: selling your paintings. Do you ever feel grief when you separate from a prized creation because it sold?
There's both grief and relief when I sell a major work. It's always bittersweet, probably more so than with most artists, because what I am painting is a narrative. Often a painting is part of a "Before, During and After" set - and it's heartbreaking to have this broken up, especially if it is before they have been exhibited as a set. The "relief" component isn't just to get the money (although of course that is necessary or I wouldn't be able to keep painting!), but more a feeling that a kindred spirit has also understood why I've painted something as well as admiring the technique and skill I have used. Another reason for sometimes having feelings of liberation when I sell my best work is that it leaves a void - I no longer have my "best" work so that immediately spurs me on to create a better one.
Joanna:Is there a skill or course you took in school that isn't related to art, but helps you in your art career?
I always loved History, although I wish that Australian history had been taught better. Now Year 10 pupils do lots of field trips and I keep being asked to help them with knowledge about Pyrmont or the Wharves. In Years 5 and 6 I went to an "Opportunity School" where our class was forcibly taught to write in italics - old fashioned nibs and ink. We even had to use the pen and ink for doing maths! No biros or textas allowed! At the time we hated it and mocked it as only being useful to inscribe merit certificates, but it did help later on when I started to paint in ink and wash.
end of interview
Jane maintains a robust presence on the web. Besides the links you've so far encountered, we offer one to her
Looking good, Jane! Thanks for the insights.