SMAC exhibition February 2010 A personal response by Eithne Owens

Dear Jill,

Today I went back to SMAC to savour your exhibition, “Notions of Being / Moments of Being” and the spell had been broken.   Fairy Tales Updated (#16) had disappeared and so had Mirage Series (#12), that wonderfully balanced and powerful piece that kept Lavender Rain and The Sweetness of Juice in their place.   Blou Skil (#2) was absent and the space was vacant, as though abandoning Yellow River (# 1).  Some of the sculptured pieces were missing, most notably the woven piece # 8.  The threads of the conversation were broken. It made me realise what a beautifully curated exhibition this was, how each piece had been carefully selected both to balance the visual impact of the whole but also to exhibit the complexities of your oeuvre.

The space was, I felt a little too small for paintings of such powerful colour and complexity, but it did allow for the viewer to see a range of works out of the corner of their eye even as they were considering a particular item, and this set up a very interesting dialogue.   It made me more aware of the range of your colour and the range of experimentation with your chosen materials.   Canvas was treated as fabric, as collage, as sculpture, as stillness, as protection, as vista, as movement, as celebration.   And paper was woven and given substance as a garment, or fragility as a “notion”, or dream.   Standing in one corner behind the computer, one had a view through the various approaches you have taken over a long period of time, considering that Wanderers was painted in 1997 and the most recent in 2009.

At the entrance door the juxtaposition of Blou Skil and Yellow River connected me (in a light bulb moment) with your Jetty Series, and the dark rectangles made sense as ‘close ups’ of the jetty staves, and the exploration of the colour yellow made perfect sense as reflections on water.  “Horizon” at the other end of the passage created an invisible sight and thought line from these two, creating a tension holding the conversation taught.   As did the plumb line rent in the canvas that was a challenge to the title!   That gave me pause for thought!

Another horizontal triangle of energy was generated by The Sunnyside of the Moon and the two Lavender Rain and Sweetness of this Juice.   The beautiful combination of natural light and gallery illumination made the Sunnyside of the Moon glow and sparkle as I had seen it in your studio, and which was lost at the Irma Stern Gallery.   Only Mirage series (#12) with its perfect balance and subtle powerful colours could hold its own, and let the two vibrant noisy jazz players compete for the viewer’s attention.   The “new” painting that has taken its place was so delicate and lyrical with is gentle mauves and music lines, but did not have the strength or the presence to cope with that position.   I felt quite protective of it!

Those small open plan ‘rooms’ created a sense of intimacy and one was obliged to examine the surfaces more closely than one would in a larger space.   And that revealed for me the layering of paint, the textures in the colours that gave me insight into the process used to achieve such impact when viewed from a distance.    And these images are very powerful.   Paintings such as ‘Baraka’ (#23), sculptured canvas mounted on canvas in dense saturated earth colours, looked and felt more like metal than paint and heavy as a trophy or suit of armour.   # 4 and 5, both untitled, but one reminiscent of Jim Dine, and the other a red garment of startling power, are both ‘constructions’ of canvas and colour, offset by the gentle and sad print of floating colour so evocative of ‘The Loss of Eros’.   The Warriors, both more sculpture than painting, had a raw primitive quality, as did ‘Tribute’. I enjoyed ‘Gatherers’ being woven from woven canvas and the sculptured garment of woven brown card that shimmered in the light like a rich and expensive fabric.   Your breadth of experimentation, of both paint and surface, colour and texture is thought provoking and difficult to praise without sounding trite or clichéd.   ‘Brilliant’, ‘commendable’, ‘amazing’, none of those words hit the mark!

Congratulations to you Jill, for a fine body of work which deserves the highest accolades.

Congratulations to the curator, Baylon Sandri for a perfectly tuned exhibition.

For me this exhibition was like a Night at the Opera. Jill composed these magnificent voices and the conductor/curator has assembled them and created a great drama.   Tomorrow the paintings will come down as does the curtain and that particular composition will remain in our memories as a Moment of Being, of inspiration and delight, never to be repeated in that particular way. I feel honoured to have been present.