Published  28/01/2010

Conceptual drawing: recent work by Bernhard Sachs, Mike Parr, Greg Creek and Janenne Eaton

Conceptual drawing: recent work by Bernhard Sachs, Mike Parr, Greg Creek and Janenne Eaton

In a global context drawing exists irrespective of cultural identity. It is a basic human instinct to make marks, to draw, to write


It could be perceived as ironic, that charged with the knowledge of new technology and the multitude of new forms and attitudes, that artists have chosen drawing in manifold forms. Over the past 10 years, drawing has assumed a pivotal role in defining contemporary culture. With powerful threads running from cave art through 19th century academies and salons, drawing has absorbed history and knowledge as artists themselves absorb influences from history, education, research and autobiography.

Drawing at the present moment is seen to occupy a position of critical ascendancy. A significant number of artists who have achieved a high profile in their careers have chosen drawing as their primary activity. In practical terms methods of transporting, framing, and installing exhibitions of drawing, have been improved, enabling fragile, awkward or cumbersome works, or works where the scale has been amplified, to be accommodated and shown. At once private and portable, essentially preliminary or diaristic, drawings continue to provide an immediate form of expression, ideally suited to modern life, travel, allowing a greater independence of conventional studio spaces. Today, what constitutes drawing is being revisited as artists exploit the infinite potential of the discipline using traditional materials, found objects, digital imaging, or the entire exhibition space of a gallery. “In contrast to the predominantly detached stance of the 1990s, contemporary drawing celebrates the artist’s touch, as the process of ‘crafting’ an object is once again valorised.”1

The conceptual and the subjective, arguably the most vital components of contemporary art practice – connect in drawing more forcibly and more appropriately than in any other form of art.

Bernice Rose has made an important contribution to critique on drawing with her Museum of Modern Art exhibitions: Drawing Now (1976) which surveyed drawing from the 1960s to 1976 followed by: Allegories of Modernism: Contemporary Drawing in 1992 which examined the period from 1976 to 1992. Thinking Is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys (1993) was organised jointly by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, by Bernice Rose and Ann Temkin. Thinking Is Form, expressed Beuys’s conception of the processes of drawing and making sculpture as profoundly akin to thought.

Drawing is the first visible form in my works … the first visible thing of the form of the thought, the changing point from the invisible powers to the visible thing … It’s really a special kind of thought, brought down onto a surface, be it flat or be it rounded, be it a solid support like a blackboard or be it a flexible thing like paper or leather or parchment, or whatever kind of surface … It is not only a description of the thought … You have also incorporated the senses … the sense of balance, the sense of vision, the sense of audition, the sense of touch. And everything now comes together: the thought becomes modified by other creative strata, within the anthropological entity, the human being … And then the last, not least, the most important thing is that some transfer from the invisible to the visible ends with a sound, since the most important production of human beings is language … So this wide understanding, this wider understanding of drawing is very important for me.2

Bernice Rose points out that in the four decades of his career, the practice and concept of Beuys’s drawing underwent profound changes. “As Beuys changed course he reconceptualised the role of his earlier drawings in the light of new ideas. That retrospective reconfiguration compels clarification, since in its process, Beuys came to radically reorder the relationship between drawing and what is traditionally regarded as an artist’s major work. For Beuys art and life became inextricably one, and the vocation of artist came to carry a specifically social and ethical responsibility. Through drawing Beuys did no less than radicalise the notion of art as it relates to the larger category of the aesthetic in Western thought.”3 Beuys proposed a radical vision where real art, which had not yet been achieved, an artwork spanning time and space, which he called “social sculpture”, would transform art and life. “In this genre-defying, multidisciplinary enterprise, drawing became the mapping of a discourse of the body as the central subject in the world, projecting it outward into a map of the entire ‘social body’.”4

Drawing as a structural and conceptual necessity has become increasingly necessary for many artists working today. Not merely the creation of an illusion, but of psychological importance, the work of the artists discussed here, indicates the manner in which drawing has become an enabling activity. Drawing is both the first step towards abstraction, yet also an important way to incorporate reality in to an overall scheme of things. The paradox makes drawing “both the most traditional of activities and potentially the most radical”.5 Psychological space can be made to coexist with pictorial space, enabling a personal revision of history.

Bernhard Sachs:

In spite of the literary critique that dominates most commentary on the work of Bernhard Sachs, and the artist’s own interest in theory, his drawn images are physically beautiful, dramatic and confrontational. Australian born, of German descent, the Germanic tradition of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, inform his worldview. Like Anselm Kiefer, Sachs addresses the physical weight of European culture, particularly the inescapable weight of the German tradition since World War II. A highly skilled draughtsman and printmaker, Sachs’ haunting, ghostlike human heads contain a plethora of references to the manifold processes and allegory that have preoccupied generations of European artists. His early work was highly subjective, concerned with migration and family history but like Kiefer he wanted to address more universal issues and he did so by drawing upon the history of painting itself. Informed by conceptual issues, performance and the cinema, Sachs’ work is a powerful response to language and culture of the present moment and an attack on the commercialisation of the art object. His exhibitions are made up of as many as 1,000 drawings – testament to his obsessive art practice, his work ethic, hence the urgency with which he invests his output. The impact of his exhibition is powerful, at times intoxicating. He explains that, “the history of painting is like a museum of images you carry around in your head. I call these images ghosts. While I may or may not be dealing with painting as a medium in any specific work, I deal with it as an idea. One never leaves the ‘ghost’ of painting”.6 It is Joseph Beuys and Marcel Duchamp who Sachs considers to be the decisive artists of the twentieth century;7 it is the relentless processing of the physical activity of drawing and processing of critical theory and politics in relation to the meaning of art that fires Sachs, and which makes him a most dedicated practitioners of drawing. Demonstration of Apostatic Space (Late Capitalist Dispersion) Melbourne 3.27 am (1998) addresses, “certain negating characteristics in drawing as formal articulations of a political mise-en-scène. The reading of structural relations in art, according to which this piece is constructed, locates a piece of introjection of a cultural logic, predicated on the particular, into the language of the artwork itself”. This work derives its formal logic from the notion of erasure and its action. Sachs explains: “Allegorically in text and physically in the construction and limited duration of the piece, that is through the spatio-temporal formalities (a specific time reference, real time duration, specific spatial configuration, specific architecture, specific place) historicity is compressed”.8 Sachs seeks to present the state of suspended conviction and indifference that is characteristic of Late-Capitalism.

The history of art provides an endless body of images and ideas from which Sachs takes his cue. Of particular significance, are two historical themes: Judith slaying Holofernes; and The Vision of St Eustace, where the crucifix is seen between a stag’s antlers, is a visually potent form. The principle of accretion in photographs and drawings is used by Sachs to great effect – the building up and layering of images – a historical metaphor in itself. In addition, his reaction to the reality of the commercialisation of art practice, which affected him deeply when he was in New York in 1993–4 and led to a shift in his working methods reducing images through erasure, almost to the point of disappearance. Sachs is uncompromising in his work, determined to uncover truth or authenticity. He has adopted various forms of art-making in opposition to market forces, such as artist group collaborations and productions such as The Polish Game (2004). Yet the craft of the work he produces remains exemplary.

In 2004, Sachs produced an exhibition of drawings and performance at the artists’ collective, Ocularlab space in West Brunswick, Melbourne. Without a plan or script, but in certain respects creating a resemblance to the film making process, Sachs drew on every surface of the gallery space, over a five-week period. He produced large-scale charcoal drawings that were intended to refer to fictional masterpieces; ephemeral stage sets. The obscure references to art history were overlaid with graffiti – slogans from Italy’s terrorist Red Brigade. Then a dinner party was “staged” and the detritus of it, including its main course, a very rich and carniverous Cassoulet was left as part of the exhibition. Sachs described the effect of The Polish Game, as being, “an operatic set of false memories”,9 in a bunker-like space with drawings covering all the windows. Allusions were made to the failure of political systems, violence and anarchy, irrelevant aesthetic systems and a bizarre cinematic version of pleasure, recalling his mentors, such as the Italian film-makers, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci compounded by images from existential works such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s, Nausea. A sense of disillusionment and anxiety was taken to new heights. While visitors to the exhibition could view the artist working on the drawing installation, the final product could only be viewed for a four-hour period, a cinematic slot, like a countdown to nothingness, a particular void. The fashioning of one’s own death in a Freudian analysis can be seen as a strain that informed the staging of The Polish Game.

A basement gallery, Spacement, provided the venue for The Paranoiac Critical Method – Chloroform Vision of St Eustace (2006) in Melbourne. Here Sachs created an image of damnation. The late works of artists are treated by Sachs as lost allegories: Goya's so-called “Black Paintings”, Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas, and the Diana/Actaeon/Callisto series; Duchamp’s, Etant Donnes:1° la chute d'eau. 2°le gaz d'eclairage, (1946–1966) (The Waterfall and, The Illuminating Gas) and Pier Paolo Pasolini's, Salò, o Le centiventi giornata di Sodoma (Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom) (1975). That is, the late work stages a moment of genuine radicalism; the allegorical language of the radical moment of the late work. Bernhard Sachs’ body, “inhabits the terrain of philosophy; it experiences being through the reconstructive power of memory. This is memory that resides in personal dreams of the individual and in the various manifestations of public memory: biography, film, photography. These forms of public memory validate the notion of history, although this is a history that can be constantly revised, rewritten, and re-inscribed. The body is adrift in memory. Anchorage to language (making the body a part of the processes of describing the world) can reinforce existence. Following Sartre, Camus and Gide we can surmise that the act of violence affirms the experience of being”.10 One cannot escape from history, but it is also the source of massive disillusionment: Sachs drawing methods provide a body of work that enables this, a courageous confrontation of meaning and myth.

Mike Parr:

All of Mike Parr’s drawing relates to his work as a performance artist, which started in 1970. Performance art enabled him to establish an intensely personal, intellectual analysis of the world beyond the strict confines of the stage or performance space, the individual or artist in relation to the wider, political world. These processes in performance, an extreme body art, or complete immersion, in turn led to the establishment of a drawing practice, which is in itself an immediate form of mark-making. His drawings and his printmaking, which he is keen to point out are really just drawings on more resistant surfaces, or techniques “that enable me to process and displace marks for the sake of other somatic sensations, are deeply inflected by performance”.11 In line with the exploration of his own psyche in performances, such as Water From the Mouth 10 Days x 24 Hours, Artspace, Sydney (2001), where the body was pushed to extreme states of stress and vulnerability, Parr chooses the area of self-portraiture, as the most intense form of scrutiny in the visual arts in combination with text, “a similarly incontinent flood”.12 It is no coincidence that Parr makes references to ‘physical lack of control’ that is central to Freudian analysis, and that his work has been discussed using a Freudian interpretation.

Such a man as he cannot fail, (2000) and Maintenance of International Security (2000), intentionally cynical titles, were part of a series of 10 drawings entitled, Aether/Awe. The drawings employed a “deliberate admixture of styles, a schematic over and under assertion of the double panels [and seemed] to bemuse everyone”.13 A composite version, a huge work was also produced and over-printed with a part of his Wall Definition, a text made in 1971, a repeated series of definitions of the word, “wall”. In the definition of a definition, Parr enjoys the play on words, that questions meaning in art; if taken to an extreme position, futility would render art to be of no value. In this Mike Parr is playing the role of the “Artist In Extremis”, a term that Patrick McCaughey used to describe Arthur Boyd’s Caged Painter series of the 1970s.14 Parr is keen to point out that the Wall Definition project of 1971 led to the self-portraiture of the early 1980s (photographs of his 1970s performances were used as the basis of the self-portrait drawings), in that it too, parodied the very idea of identity through an endless process of re-representation. It was installed on the wall as a 254 page text. Aether/Awe is a complex work. Although long texts have been made to accompany much of Parr’s work, it is interesting to make the reference to Boyd’s deeply personal and enigmatic works of 1972 and 1973, where anger and torment are given powerful vent. Tom Rosenthal, Boyd’s publisher and friend believed that if Boyd had been successfully analysed that he would not have needed to paint such work, and that a Freudian analysis enables us to get to grips with the meaning behind specific elements such as gold and excrement. In Dreams in Folklore, Freud makes the connection with excrement and gold; he also develops the link between defaecation and impotence or the fear of impotence. Relating to the physical phenomena of Parr’s performance works  (such as the symptoms of not eating for days), where the artist put himself in an acutely traumatic position, Parr here, is confronting his fear of impotence as an artist. Where Boyd used cages and chains as the embodiment of incarceration, Parr puts his credibility as an artist to the test within the confines of the performance space and the imposition of time-scale. With the employment of theory (Kierkegaard’s Either/Or is parodied here) Parr is at once testing the definitions and limits of art and of himself. In doing so he presents an image of hopelessness and injustice. This grotesque and perverse triumphalism for art possessed of moral and philosophical implication, over purely physical considerations such as lust, greed and materialistic commerce is absolute. And the world so presented appears too far lost, to be reprieved through the insight of the victimised artist, the enlightened sufferer. Although there is a great impulse towards controlling his position as an artist, through text, argument, performance art which was a great rejection of the art object and market, Mike Parr’s powerful and courageous drawings constitute the rawest form of mark making, that continue to question the meaning of art and the role of the artist in society in the 21st century.

Describing the complex and labour intensive techniques of the Aether/Awe suite, Parr defines the subjective use of printmaking techniques, which contribute to his large drawings, and the importance in much of his work with the etched dry point line, an intensely charged line made by gauging directly into the metal plate. “Actually these are drawings done before I could draw [whatever that means, though it does mean that I laboured over these drawings from performance photographs with a terrible poverty of technical means]. The very recent drawings from the mirror are very empty. It was exactly the aether of these drawings that led me to silkscreens. I felt that silkscreen printing would exacerbate their emptiness. Finally, Aether/Awe, despite its vast scale, is meant to be dualistic and frail. Personae, or theatrical garments, that flap in the breeze of an indefinite anxiety. The language, which goes nowhere, is an integral aspect of this displacement”.15 Romantic notions of portraiture acting as narrative or allegory can be dismissed here. It is actually the process of thought itself that reveals the real disorder and its true essence is in contrast, an intensive visionary image.

Mike Parr’s 100 Breaths (1992) focuses the notion of Conceptual Drawing; it extends its possibilities in a new direction. He first “performed” 100 Breaths, but there have been a number of repetitions and extensions via film since. In 1992 he drew 100 Self Portraits on A4 sheets of copper and exhibited the 100 prints produced by breathing each sheet directly onto his face. A good lung capacity enabled the artist to hold each sheet of Hahnemuhle over his face just by drawing in breath. One after another, in a continuous performance, the printed sheets were breathed onto his face. He recently recalled: “What's particularly interesting is my increasing hyperventilation, because the glimpses of my face between the drawing masks become increasingly distorted as the performance goes on and the reciprocity between face and expressionist portrait is quite unexpected, peculiar and resonant. The soundtrack is simply the harsh inhalation/exhalation of breath, which also becomes more intense, laboured and extreme. The Conceptual aspect of the drawings is to be found I suppose in the incommensurable but suggestive disjunction of their parts. 100 Breathsextends the implications of this disjointedness in a much more direct and challenging way.”

Greg Creek:

There was a distinctive Australian presence at the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival where Director Jonathan Mills from Melbourne invited Juliana Engberg from Australian Centre for Contemporary Art to curate an exhibition, The Enlightenments, where the work of Greg Creek featured prominently. Its venue, the Dean Gallery, a former orphanage, built in 1830, is a curious mix of neo-classical and baroque features and was converted by Terry Farrell in 1999, to house important Dada and Surrealist works and the Eduardo Paolozzi collection. Edinburgh can be seen to epitomise eighteenth century Enlightenment ideals, in neo-classical architecture and town planning, and through legal, administrative and educational systems that were transported through colonialism to the New World. For Australians there is much that is familiar in Edinburgh, yet there are also massive contradictions, as Robert Louis Stevenson exposed in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, (1886). The Enlightenments exhibition sought to present “contemporary observations on subjects including religion, philosophy, superstition, architecture, literature, natural history, the cosmos, scepticism, stoicism and social manners”.16

Greg Creek’s work has long addressed the revision of history, politics and issues of identity. The materiality of the work with site-specific imagery, references, texts, names, specific individuals, provided an intriguing, but outsider view of the city. ChatterShapes sought to embody the intangible nature of the place, whose beauty belies a murky side. In his intent and working method Greg Creek’s work in this exhibition can aptly be described as “conceptual yet subjective”. ChatterShapes forms a city panorama. Detailed drawings of the city’s architecture and notable landmarks are interspersed with informal notations, doodles, invented prose, and narrative to create a delicate ornamental version of place, where travel in time and place are achieved through the eye and through the referential construct thus established. He describes his working process:

My approach to the Edinburgh work was to look for a play of structure and detail. Initially I was interested in the idea of “seeing through” the walls of the building to Edinburgian vistas beyond. So the structure came in response to the specific architectural space the work would be installed in (at the Dean Gallery a sequence of nine corridor-wall segments), the material base of the work (the scrolled and cut-out paper grounds with texts emptied out from them onto the walls themselves) and the developed idea of seven contemporary, secular “sacraments” (plus two “palinodes”) that pose the question what am I moved by? This was a response to Poussin’s Sacraments in the National gallery in Edinburgh, which fascinate me for Poussin’s rational approach to faith (pre-enlightenment) and the opaqueness of their meanings (to me at the time), their seeming impenetrability and irrelevance.17

The Christian sacraments were described by Augustus of Hippo as, “a visible sign of an invisible reality”,18 which Creek had written above the table on which he worked on ChatterShapes. He questions the basis of post enlightenment rationalism by positing alternative means of enchantment, a contemporary alternative to the intangible and immaterial. Bittersweet, themes from mundane aspects of life were presented within the panorama of the city where drawing itself was consciously used to present dichotomous aspects of life: beauty through accurate rendering of architectural form and motifs from historical works of art, juxtaposed against graffiti-like marks to denote a murkier narrative. As a title ChatterShapes, questions Oxford English as the superior form of language, preferring to make references to punk music, invented words, idiosyncratic layers of meaning. Certainty is thus exposed as sham.

The research carried out by Greg Creek was varied. Identifying one of the few surviving inhabitants of the Dean Orphanage during the Second World War, Donald Veale, he travelled to Folkestone to carry out an interview. There he made a pencil portrait of him, which he later cut out and incorporated in his section, “Naïve and Unruly Childre”. “This was an important aspect of the experience because it fully grounded the work and myself in a local history… to insinuate itself into the local audience’s consciousness at a base, almost existential level. Of course there are then many “higher” levels of access that they and everybody else enters into. I wanted the work to be embedded however, something recognisable and known at the same time as ‘enchanted’.”19

Creek uses a range of different graphic styles: finished rendered drawings, watercolours, doodles and lists, and accidental aspects of the working process – spills, stains, abrasion. Parts of the scrolled drawing have been cut and pasted elsewhere, to use a computer word processing description. They also allude to a filmic, sequential approach to image making where narrative plays a key role, emphasizing its contemporary position, in spite of the dialogue with the past and with ideas from disparate sources. The manipulation of imagery for a predetermined end is visible, so too are accidents embraced as legitimate aspects of process. He explains: “This working methodology destabilises the ground of drawing and brings it, ruptured, into the world. Thus the piece is presented simply pinned to the wall, buckling and touchable even, with texts, as I mentioned above, pinned around it. Within the drawings I envisioned a sequence of segues (arching between panels and themes), echoes (of ideas and imagery), suppressions (into scatological zones, cynicisms, violent imagery, and performative defacements: mopping, striking) and transferences (one part of the drawing ‘dreams’ another part).”20 Although Creek chose not to have a dialogue or seek specific knowledge of the other artists in the show, he remarked on the “overwhelming sense of dialogue, of spoken dialogues within works as a motif”21 when The Enlightenments opened.

The panorama or frieze like form of ChatterShapes, indicates the command of space that Greg Creek’s work achieves. Perhaps his brief spell as a student of architecture left an affection for architectural structures and technical drawings, but these are interspersed with portraits, landscape studies, abstractions, performed gestures. His spatial drawings are perhaps the key to the curious manner in which his drawings insinuate themselves within a traditional picture plane, but also beyond, into the landscape.

The Manifesto Drawing (4th Party Machine – The Internationale) (2008) was installed at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne. It is “a three dimensional construct made from dyed toilet paper that is twisted, tied and knotted to produce rope like spans which support weight and direct force, define space and form, and interact with surrounding architectures and inserted objects. I consider the installation a drawing project – one of a series of ongoing spatialised drawing works. The work is part performed action, part drawing in space, part image, part sculpture”.22
Greg Creek finds spatial drawing liberating, and it enables him to construct the viewer as part of the subject; the identity and positioning of the viewer, the intended obligation between maker and audience is pivotal to his work.

Janenne Eaton:

Janenne Eaton has always created images with an astute sensibility that seeks to define the relationships humans have, with their environment. Using the city as her base, in the 1980’s she created large, charcoal images of freeway underpasses and the interiors of underground car parks. Although she chose somewhat ugly or drab aspects of life to portray, she created images where the patina of the work exuded her idiosyncratic sensibility and urgent concern for the state of the world. Trained as an archaeologist, Eaton’s approach to uncovering evidence from which she can piece together a narrative is always done with great respect for the past, and for the ramifications of the living.

In her large freeway underpasses and underground car parks Eaton used artificial light to illuminate concrete and asphalt surfaces, creating a dramatic space, exuding the tension and gravitas of aSamuel Becket stage set. Redolent in their seductive beauty, in spite of the repugnant subject, the scale of the works invites the viewer to practically “walk into” the drawn image. A more recent work, although quite different in style and mood, is a development from the charcoal works. An installation, made from long banners of rice paper onto which the texture of the bark of hundreds of trees (one sheet of paper per tree), are suspended in a gallery space. Here, the drawing becomes “spatial”, as the viewer walks between the rows of suspended banners. In spatial drawing there is a freeing up of the restrictions imposed by two dimensions. Spatial drawing was described by Bernice Rose in 1976, in the catalogue to accompany the Drawing Now exhibition at the museum of Modern Art, New York, as: “The drawing is seen as a field co-extensive with real space, no longer subject to the illusion of an object marked off from the rest of the world. The space of illusionism changes, merges with the space of the world, but by doing so it loses its objective, conventional character and becomes subjective, accessible only to the individual’s raw perception.”23 No longer limited to four sides of a piece of paper, drawing can enter an expanded field. In this Janenne Eaton’s installation is a fine example of the drawn dialogue with space that artists such as Sol Le Witt and Richard Long first explored in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Avenue of Honour – anatomy of a monument (1995) takes the evidence of a War Memorial made in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, and examines its meaning and impact over time. After the First World War avenues of trees were planted on the approaches to many country towns in Australia. Each tree represented an ANZAC soldier who had served, and in many cases died. Eaton focuses in part on the fact that our mode of travel now, at speed in a car, results in a very different grasp of the significance of the memorial that was planted when most people in the country still travelled by horse and cart. Where the trees were just saplings at the time they were planted, now they form a tree tunnel, “A rough reckoning of time suggests that the community would travel in the shadow of death until the trees grew tall enough to shade the avenue”.24 At speed the avenue of trees is now just a blur; the name plaques on each tree cannot be read at 50 kilometres an hour.

During the First World War the loss of so many young men to local communities like Bacchus Marsh, was compounded by the fact that recruitment was localised, and so casualties occurred together; life together in peacetime was experienced as wartime death; a collective loss. The commemorative avenue of Canadian Elms was the product of the work of 1,000 people who came together to plant, foster and label the trees. Eaton explains her preoccupation with time, “I like the word longeur – duration – how things form over time, how meaning is only formed through duration, in relation to place, through an accumulation of memories, action, politics, weather. Sedimentation, settling down – that is an action of time. In contrast, the constant flickering presence that today characterises our ‘digital ecology’, is no time, or rather it is virtual time: an artificial suspension of the material and mental processes”.25

The process of creating The Avenue of Honour, involved photographing each tree, and each plaque. The shape of the memorial was thus recorded – there were replacement trees, some graffiti, a private memorial to mark the victim of a car accident. Each tree was frottaged. The rubbing of the tree and its nameplate was then transferred onto the banner. On the other side of the banner she hand-copied an image of the tree from the photograph she had taken. Two hundred and eighty one banners were made to represent the same number of trees. As a series of drawings it achieves its extensive spatial definition and power by virtue of the installation.

When Eaton exhibited Nothing Banner (2006) she gave considerable clues as to the working of her wider body of work. David Hanson saw the artist as archaeologist at play: “Eaton cites her training as an archaeologist as having a significant effect on her art practice. She recalls one particular epiphany, encountering a book of aerial photographs which ‘revealed a visual, temporal history of crop-growing patterns stretching back to the Bronze Age, moving forward again through Roman times, and so on into the present’.”26 Although she uses the grid as the basis of her paintings, created by spray painting through builder’s mesh, yet her skill and intuition are required. Eaton’s works are sophisticated but they never lose a sense of beauty achieved by her hand, her touch and her sensibility. Underlying her skilful practice is her drawing, which determines the direction of her work. Nothing resonates with the unsettling writings of Jean-Paul Sartre in Nausea, and carries an art historical skeleton, literally from Goya’s, The Disasters of War, where one image is of a skeleton seen writing on a tombstone, the single word, “nothing”. Ulanda Blair observed, “Eaton’s latest exhibition reminds us, nothing lasts forever. Nothing. No thing. Nothingness. Time and space are unbounded and impervious to the awkward logic of the man-made frame, and its grids, and codes, and symbols, and languages. All we can do in the face of such uncertainty is hurtle through time and space, relying on art like Eaton’s to cross the gap between body, being and expression; to find a flickering light of connection between the self and the world beyond the skin”. Whether Janenne Eaton is drawing in charcoal, creating installations of spatial drawing, or skilful statements that address the meaningless nature of much of our communication systems, we are always challenged and affected.

Beuys’s words remain pertinent to the work of these and many artists working today:
The expanded concept of art is not a theory but a way of proceeding which says that the inner eye is very much more crucial than the external images that develop ... The precondition for good outward pictures, which can also be hung in museums, is that the inner image, the thought-form, the structure of thought, imagination, and feeling, has the quality required of a corresponding picture. I therefore shift the picture back to its place of origin. I go back to the sentence: In the beginning was the word. The word is a form. That is the evolutionary principle as such. This principle of evolution must spring out of man.27


1 Tania Kovats, The Drawing Book: a survey of the primary means of expression, Black Dog Publishing, London, 2008: 16.

2 Joseph Beuys, quoted by Bernice Rose, ‘Joseph Beuys and the Language of Drawing’. In: Ann Temkin and Bernice Rose, Thinking Is Form: The Drawings of Joseph Beuys, Thames and Hudson with Museum of Modern Art and Philadelphia Museum of Art, New York, 1993: 73.

3 Ibid, p.73.

4 Ibid, p.73.

5 Ibid, p.76.

6 Quoted by Ongrid Periz, ‘A space of lostness’. In: Australian Art Collector, Issue 38, Oct–Dec 2006: 118.

7 Bernhard Sachs, email interview with Janet McKenzie, April 2009.

8 Bernhard Sachs, Artist’s Statement. In: Drawing, Linden Arts Centre and Gallery, St Kilda, 5–22 November, 1998.

9 Quoted by Periz, op cit: 124.

10 Christopher Chapman, Death by Drownin. In: Bernhard Sachs, Elements, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, June 1993.

11 Mike Parr, email to Janet McKenzie, 31 March 2009.

12 Ibid.

13 Mike Parr, email to Janet McKenzie, 24 March 2009.

14 Janet McKenzie, Arthur Boyd, Art and Life, Thames and Hudson, London, 2000.

15 Mike Parr, Letter to Marian Crawford. In: Imprint Magazine, Print Council of Australia, 24 January 2003.

16 See Michael Spens, ‘The Enlightenments’, Edinburgh International Festival, 7 August–27 September 2009, Studio International,, 13 September 2009.

17 Greg Creek, ‘Notes on Drawing’, email to Janet McKenzie, December 2009.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Bernice Rose, Drawing Now, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976: 14.

24 Mary Eagle, Janenne Eaton: Our Speed is our Point of View. In:Recovering Lives (edited by Nancy Sever and Caroline Turner) Drill Hall Gallery, Australian National University, 7 August–21 September, 2008: 40.

25 Janenne Eaton, quoted, ibid: 39.

26 David Hansen, ‘Bedrock Principles’, Janenne Eaton: Angle of Head, Helen Maxwell Gallery at Silvershop, Melbourne, 10-20 May 2006.

27 Beuys quoted by Rose, op cit: 113.

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

studio international logo

Copyright © 1893–2024 Studio International Foundation.

The title Studio International is the property of the Studio International Foundation and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved.

twitter facebook instagram

Studio International is published by:
the Studio International Foundation, PO Box 1545,
New York, NY 10021-0043, USA