Not the Way Home
Artist Profile March/April
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Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s recent work has investigated light and space in an urban context, partly created during residences in France and Japan. In travelling to Fowlers Gap, she was forced to engage in a different mode of looking She created a suit of drawings that were inspired by what covered the ground in this desert landscape – a rich abundance of flowers and plants that had spring to life following usually high rainfall. Keeler-Milne contrasted her detailed recordings of these plants and flowers with interpretations of the seemingly endless sky.
AP: Much of your recent work has been based in an urban context, depicting semi-abstract fragments of light from the streets of Japan and the interiors of Parisian buildings. What was your first reaction to the vast, almost untouched landscape of Fowlers Gap?
JKM: Delight and awe to be in such an expansive space and relief that we had reached our destination, out of the confines and the mini-bus! Driving from inner urban Sydney to remote far-west NSW is an amazing and transformative journey. You experience the density and clutter unravelling into a series of panoramic landscape.
AP: How did you refine and focus this reaction into a mode of art-making?
JKM: The landscape has an overwhelming sense of expansiveness and continuity. It is deceptively easy to assume that its empathy and monotonous. Concurrently, it is full and abundant with variation. I wanted to make some artworks that reflected both the landscape’s emptiness and fullness.
AP: In a practical context, what challenges did you encounter?
JKM: I found it challenging on many levels. Physically working in a natural environment had its particular challenges: being subject to the sun, wind, dust and dirt, roaming animals and insects while sitting for hours on hard, rocky, prickly ground. However, more challenging than the physical conditions was the conceptual task of finding a subject and developing a working method with the materials at hand, in a short amount of time.
AP: Do you enjoy working en plein air? Is this a regular mode of creating for you?
JKM: I work en plein air quite a bit, but in a variety of 21st century ways. This could means taking photos, drawing, note writing or making small-scale works on paper. This feeds directly into the work in the studio. Much of my work is large-scale oil painting employing the layering techniques of glazing and scumbling, making colour translucent and creating optical effects. This method of making paintings was going to be impossibly at Fowlers Gap.
AP: Many of the artists have spoken about the array of colours out there. You’ve worked primarily in black and white, charcoal on paper. How and why did you come to this decision?
JKM: I love colour and the ever-changing colours of Fowler Gap, but I had decided before our departure to make works on paper, and charcoal is my preferred medium for this. I also enjoy working with black and white, which has become an important aspect of my language. Sometimes, stripping out colour brings it own rewards.
AP: Has Fowlers Gap landscape and experience fed unto your other, more urban-based work?
JKM: Definitely, I am still processing the experience. My other body of work dealing with light looks and feels incredibly different, yet there are still threads that link with the landscape drawings. When I returned home I was excited to discover the photographic work of a 19th century English botanist, Anna Atkins. I felt there was a great resonance between her photograms and the plant drawings I had just completed at Fowlers Gap.
AP: The life of an artist is often one of solitude. How did you feel the experience of working amongst a group of artists?
When we were in the landscape, I chose mainly to work in solitude. I wanted to feel something about the landscape without distraction. The wonderful counterbalance to this was coming back to base and sharing the experience with everyone. It was both inspiring and a privilege to be working alongside a highly motivated group of committed artists of all ages and stages. While we had different modes of expression, we all shared an excitement about the landscape and the challenge of capturing it. Everyone made a huge effort to make it a positive, enjoyable experience.