COMMISSIONED ESSAY FOR ‘LAURA JONES: ARCADIA’ AT GLASSHOUSE REGIONAL GALLERY, MARCH-APRIL 2020
Love and grief
And floral wreaths
The human heart
A coral reef.
– Omar Musa (1)
A mohawk of chartreuse-green bananas, nearing ripeness. Troops of flannel flowers in post-bloom malaise. A needle-bunched sea urchin bopping around for food or playmates, maybe both. Banksia trees in stages, from the yellow spriteness of their fruiting cones to the grimey remains of branches ravaged by bushfire. The natural world—and its fluttering cycles of life and loss, bloom and decay— has always been omnipresent in Laura Jones’ arts practice.
A childhood spent in Kurrajong, at the feet of the glorious Blue Mountains, has imparted the artist with an adulation for environmental wonders. Using an observational approach, Jones creates radiant oil paintings that unravel the profoundness of florals, animalia, fruits and aquatic life. The artist is unheeded by technical exactness, rather, she vivifies the still-life tradition by capturing her subject matters as energies in transit.
Her often ponderous and intuitive compositions are replete with enthralling colours, obscure gestures, and forms that flirt with depth and scale. During my visit to her Darlinghurst studio, Jones described her paintings as akin to a ‘Magic Eye’ topography, where textures push and pull, with positive and negative colours coalescing. The effect, she recounted, “is similar to lying on the beach and looking at the world through the holes of your straw hat. The sun comes through, and your vision forms a blurry, collision of images, like a kaleidoscope. I paint with colours and marks in a similar way.”
While Jones is increasingly known for her flower paintings —scholared by her nine years as a florist for prominent Sydney flower shops Grandiflora and POHO—her works also feature other living beings, like insects, fruits, corals and amphibians. Her interests deepened when she took on residencies at the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station, the Heron Island Research Station, and more recently, Port Macquarie. During this time, she worked with scientists, researchers and local communities to explore the relationship between humans and their ecology in a time of climate change.
In 2017, Jones painted underwater scenes from the Great Barrier Reef for her Olsen Gallery exhibition Bleached, documenting pristine corals that were disintegrating due to global warming. As recalled in her diary entries: “the corals get really bright and start to glow—it’s called ‘fluorescing’—and this is the coral’s way of protecting itself, like using sun cream.” She added, “I am overwhelmed by the scientists here because they are optimistic despite all the damage…We [humans] can’t keep hammering our reef. It knows how to regenerate. We’re lucky it can do that, but we need to manage for resilience.” (2)
Hope at a time of devastation continues to underline Jones’ works. For Arcadia, her new exhibition at Glasshouse Regional Gallery, Jones seeks solace from the Greek mythos ‘arcadia’, which refers to a paradisiacal garden of untampered tranquility and contentment. These paintings envision an aspirational world where various botanical beings coexist in a self-sustaining wonderland. During the studio process, Jones said “I was thinking about the environment as a symbiotic, biodiverse whole, rather than documenting one place like a postcard of a landscape.”
The exhibition also features the Burnt Banksia series, comprised of specimens collected from her uncle’s property after the fires waned. With their charcoaled branches crowned by gaping, apricot-mouthed pods, these banksias symbolise both the sorrow of unprecedented fires and the plant kingdom’s remarkable tenacity. Their heat-sensitive serotiny means banksias will only release seeds if they sense a fire approaching. These winged pits would then be swiped up by hot winds, ensuring they germinate all over the ground to sprout new life.
In her studio, Jones handed me a bruised, sooty branch to admire, and said: “burnt banksias look an awful lot like black velvet.” Her musing reminds me of a passage in Michael Petry’s book Nature Morte: “many contemporary artists find a flower in bloom to encapsulates the notion of beauty at its peak”, particularly “the moment before death becomes inevitable and the bruise overtakes the perfect velvet petal.” (3) Perhaps this was why British artist Marc Quinn attempted to give roses, sunflowers and lilies the illusion of foreverness in his Eternal Spring series (1998), by freezing flowers at their prime, using liquid silicon and refrigerators. “They become an image of [the] perfect flower,” Quinn quipped, “Because in reality, their matter is dead and they are suspended in a state of transformation between pure image and pure matter.” (4)
Jones stands at the polar opposite though: she paints the fragile and temporal life of organisms as they grow, mature and perish in front of her. In doing so, her works are an enchanting timestamp of our mortality. They also become a love letter to humans and fellow beings—banksias, corals, maple moths, fruit seedlings, and the like—reminding us that we are all evanescent, adaptable and resilient creatures. And that we inherently share this planet as one breathing, aching, curious, hopeful ecosystem. Arcadia is within sight, we just have to be united in its rescue.
1. Instagram: @omarbinmusa, posted 18 March 2019
2. Bleached: Laura Jones, Olsen Gallery, 2017, p:23, 29
3. Petry, M., Nature Morte, United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson, 2013 p:23 Romaine, J.
4. Marc Quinn: The Matter of Life and Death, Image Journal: Issue 69Accessed 5 Feb, 2020: https://imagejournal.org/article/marc-quinn-matter-life-death
Essay published by Glasshouse Regional Gallery, 2020
Images top to bottom:
Burnt Banksias #2,2020, oil on linen, 51 x 41 cm;
Bananas, 2020, oil on linen, 183 x 198 cm;
Rockpool 2020, oil on linen, 183 x 198 cm;
Rockstar 2019, oil on linen, 82 x 66 cm
Air water stars, 2020, oil on linen, 92 x 112 cm
Laura Jones Darlinghurst studio, 2020 (via Instagram: @_laura_jones_)
Arcadia, 2020, oil on linen diptych, 183 x 198 cm each panel, 183 x 396 cm;
All images courtesy the artist.