Q&A with Winsome Jobling

In order of appearance: Winsome Jobling, Lunar globe – res communis, 2009, drypoint on handmade paper from recycled mooring rope of Manila hemp using a taser-cut shaped deckle, 70 x 171 cm; Watermark Moon, 2011, handmade pigmented paper from cotton and abaca with stencil and watermarks, 55.3 x 20.3 cm.

‘Paper is a ubiquitous material, a carrier of world history, stories and economy – we take it for granted and the computer age hasn’t dented its production. My print works begin with the focus idea and then making the paper substrate – the material adds to the story.’ 

Winsome Jobling lives in Darwin, NT.

This is a busy time for you with your recent exhibition Ground at Nomad Art and your current survey the nature of paper at the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory (MAGNT). Can you tell us more about these exhibitions and the process of putting them together?

I have had an exhibition at Nomad Art annually for the past seven years. This year’s exhibition focused on the surface of the earth, the ground as soil, the substrate for plant growth, and life on the planet. Imagery of plant root structures mimic the branching structure of plants above the ground, the bifurcation of river systems form the source to the sea, and the pathways of the blood via veins and arteries in our bodies. Family trees follow the same branching patterns and link us to our beginnings. The tree of life. Throughout the development of this body of work the handmade paper ‘ground’ became more suggestive and experimental. The papermaking ‘set the scene’ for the print plate vocabulary. For me, the ground for my prints is the most important part of the work.

Winsome Jobling: the nature of paper is a major survey exhibition at MAGNT that covers twenty-six years of my practiceThe exhibition took over a year in development and is also testament to the inspiration of Director Marcus Schutenko, as well as Exhibitions Manager Wendy Wood, curator Angus Cameron and the Museum team who put this exhibition together. There are sixty works in the exhibition: prints, sculptures, drawings and installations as well as a 100-page catalogue. I am still bemused but thrilled by the attention!

How did you start as an artist?

As a kid my sister and I had an Art Club on Saturdays – just us two! I did bits of courses in industrial and graphic design and advertising and then went to art school where I majored in painting and fibre arts. Then I went to Darwin and a whole new world, learning from people whose knowledge stretches back over 40,000 years, whose links to the land and the natural world transcend the physical realm. This experience has combined with and underpins my work. If I don’t make art then my world is not right.

What is it about paper that attracts you?

Paper is a ubiquitous material, a carrier of world history, stories and economy – we take it for granted and the computer age hasn’t dented its production. My print works begin with the focus idea and then making the paper substrate – the material adds to the story. I was inspired by the power of paper when handed a piece of paper by John Risseeuw at a conference. It was a petition to the US government demanding the end to land mines – at the bottom it said ‘this paper made from the pulped clothes of land mine victims’ – I dropped it.

In my own work, for example, I have used hemp mooring rope to make the paper for Lunar Globe – res communis (2009) which alludes to major explorations in the past to plunder new world discoveries and the proposed mineral exploration on the moon.

The possibilities of the final sheet are endless: each plant fibre lends intrinsic qualities, pigments and images can be embedded in the sheet forming process and watermarks that can be hidden or exposed.

Do you have particular rituals or routines that contribute to your creative process?

The seasons have become a routine when making paper. Simplistically according to white fellas we have only two seasons in the top end but age old Indigenous knowledge recognises the nuances of six seasons. I collect fibre plants over the wet season when plants are verdant and supple with sap making them easier to harvest and prepare. I often rinse the fibre in monsoon rainwater under the downpipe after cooking.

What do you hope people will get from the experience of viewing your work?

I hope people make links between the material and the image to extrapolate the bigger picture of the interconnectedness of all things.

What is next for you?

I am making two bodies of work: one more print-based looking at the local and iconic sand palm Livistona humilis, the other larger and more experimental works are continuing to focus on the ‘chatter’ or vibrations in the negative spaces between everything around us as well as the recently discovered gravitational waves that distort spacetime. Past, present and future all at once.