This series of works continues Jane Guthleben’s fascination with c17th Dutch still life paintings and how to reimagine them in an Australian context. Through extravagant arrangements, small studies of birds and flowers and groupings of ornaments, Guthleben aims to build on Dutch traditions with contemporary antipodean subject matter. Concerns about threats to Australia’s flora and fauna through habitat loss and climate change underpin her interest in the project, and recent media reports have inspired particular studies and larger pieces in the series. Her painting style is a tension between realism and expression through the texture, gesture and colour of the painted mark.
Guthleben’s large arrangements such as South Coast Arrangement and A Sydney Arrangement are works of fiction, designed on a computer where she can construct elaborate formal compositions. These would be impossible to create in the studio due to scarcity and longevity of cut flowers, difficulty in obtaining them and constructing the arrangements. Birds come to roost, asking the viewer why they are perched in an interior floral setting. Guthleben follows the Dutch who also created imaginary flower pieces, showing their knowledge of blooms from different times of the year and from different localities. Some of Guthleben’s arrangements are region specific, including flora endemic to certain geographic areas. The European-style formality refers to Australia’s colonial past and incongruously clashes with the “otherness” of indigenous flora and fauna.
The many small paintings of birds and flowers are made as practice and preparation for larger works. Sometimes they are inspired by a news item, such as The Mutton bird, which was painted on hearing last year that the migratory birds were a month late returning to Tasmania from their feeding grounds in the northern hemisphere, and that many had died from starvation along the way. Other small works such as The Volunteer #1 and The Volunteer #2 have been included because of the work that bushfire fighters have done protecting Australia’s flora and fauna in recent fires.
Guthleben loves the allegory of Dutch paintings, conveyed through the symbolism of certain flowers, the skull, an upended glass or humble food items. While Australian flora and fauna don’t signal virtues in the European tradition, our recognition of them takes on new meaning as the environment comes under increasing pressure.
Jane Guthleben has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) from the University of New South Wales. She has been a finalist in numerous prizes including recently the Portia Geach, Mosman Art Prize, Archibald Prize Salon des Refuses and the Ravenswood Art Prize. This is her second solo show with Edwina Corlette Gallery.