The Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award (JADA) is the Gallery’s flagship biennial art prize graciously sponsored by the Friends of Grafton Gallery.
There is an appealing simplicity in a drawing. An image may be conjured with marks on any surface, and its immediacy takes you right there, into the palm of the artist’s hand. I find the drawn line renders the gesture somehow vulnerable. We share the intimacy of that moment of mark-making, extended to the choice of subject which may be close or distant, domestic, or otherwise connected to the life of the artist. The direct hand to mark renders it honest, direct and authentic, not tricked up, elaborated into other media. The forest offers an analogy, with the understory, often invisible, crucial to the functioning of the ecosystem. Drawing may exist “under the eaves of the forest” but conducts the “voices of the trees”.
The Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award seeks the innovation in contemporary drawing in Australia, its aesthetic freedoms and ability to crystallise a nascent idea. It platforms the central importance of drawing, as an endeavour in its own right as well as in the further development of artworks and it celebrates the significant freedom brought to contemporary drawing.
Since 1988, the JADA collection has traced the change and developing practice of contemporary Australian drawing. The range of works in this collection (now thirty years old) is echoed in the 55 finalists for the 2018 award, but also reaches back, to the essential role that drawing holds in human history. Like other drawings, both little and well known, the subject matter in this year’s JADA is diverse. Its proximity to the lives of the artists’ means that subjects include nature and shelter, faces and bodies, and connections into places both mental and physical.
With Fractal Forest, Eamonn Jackson creates the canopy of the forest in graphite on paper, shaped like an iris in its resonant depths. We look up through and into tree tops, their central importance to humanity evoked in his use of the forest as a portal into the world. Cass Samm’s Scribbly Moth Journey uses an erratic and jumpy line in pencil and ink to evoke the movement of the moth, its trajectory dusting colour as it flutters through its space, compelling, apparently random. Mollie Rice’s Field Drawing #4 uses dust from its charcoal process to unite a grassy field with the darkening sky. It is moody, with light emerging in the sky to counter the dark portent of the ground. Violence is a reality in Julie Nash’s Saw Point (Koala Habitat destruction), with two porcelain circular-saw blades a base for beautifully and sculpturally rendered eucalyptus leaves. The veins on the leaves bulge as do budding flowers, with the holes punched through the centre of the blades and their viciously-shaped edges suggesting the way trees are attacked with these machines. Colonisation, as rapacious as the saw, is referred to in Anna Glynn’s Landscape with an Opossum of Van Dieman's Land 1777 and a nod to Glover. Her native opossum exists as a silhouette, within which the early European painter John Glover’s attempts to capture an Australian landscape creates a picturesque contrast to the rocky, arid landscape in which the animal stands. Her careful and detailed watercolour, pencil and ink expression of the transplantation of her cultural antecedents into an unfamiliar land offers a contrast to Craig Waddell’s expressionistic Wild Nature I. Waddell’s scribbly line etches into colour with the drawn forms emerging like flowers from the depths of a shrub, waratah like shapes and birds, together with the words of the title crystallising from the backdrop. This drawing reminds me of the peculiar way in which we may remember – a moment captured differently by everyone present.
People and portraits, explorations inside another’s world, are also frequent subjects for drawings. Mark Thompson’s A.B.S. narrates a story unfamiliar to most of us. A middle-aged man, bald, wearing a bright blue leotard, tutu, leg warmers and ballet slippers, looks directly at the viewer. The thick dark line that contains the nuanced contours of his head and legs expose his uncertainty in this guise, as does his pose, fingers entwined, knees pressing together, and sensitive expression. It is an empathetic depiction of the contradiction that may exists within an individual. In contrast, Sally Simpson’s Full Fathom Five #4 creates a portrait style head in a form drawn from the natural world. A stretched, skeletal face is rendered like coral, hollowed eyes and features that droop down, softly evoked in charcoal. Tim Spellman’s Granny@Cooma. RIP requires distance to read. His ball point pen portrait reads like cross-stitch in black and white and may express his granny’s age, passing, and the veil that now exists between the ending of her life and our present world. And Georgie Lucock’s Born Instinct seems to bridge nature and humanity, with two figures growing out of the forest floor hybrid-like, made from bark and lichen and bodies, its detail intriguing to the eye. The connection between an artist and their work may be evident here, with Lucock exploring the nature of difference in a double portrait that sees humanity as indivisible from nature.
If we adopt Janet McKenzie’s suggestion of “drawing as a language”, it is a language with which we are familiar. Drawing is a primal mode of expression and this year’s JADA offers a form of visual speech which we may all understand. In a year in which the global environment became the must-solve issue of our time, looking under the eaves, into the minutiae of the forest, the primacy of the drawn line and what it expresses may initiate us all.
This exhibition is proudly sponsored by the Friends of Grafton Gallery (FoGG).
From an essay by Louise Martin-Chew (edited) - 3 October 2018
Image Credit: Eamonn Jackson Fractal Forest (2018 JADA finalist)