Place, story, and non-traditional materials: Jackie Gorring

From top:
Jackie Gorring, Lone Hand Egg, 2017, relief print.
Jackie Gorring, Lone Hand Rabbit, 2017, relief print.

Thomas Middlemost, reflects on Jackie Gorring’s A’Dale and Beyond, showing at Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery.

There are three ways to tackle the marvellous work by Jackie Gorring. We can talk about the work within the boundaries of place, story, and non-traditional materials.

Jackie Gorring’s story starts in Maitland, New South Wales. Educated in Newcastle, she received her B.A., Visual Arts in 1983. I don’t know much about the Seasons Gallery in North Sydney where she held her first solo exhibition in 1981, (a gallery where Madeline Winch also showed), however, the Bitumen River Gallery in Canberra where she exhibited in 1986 was a hothouse of energy, it was open from 1981-1987 and was populated with a politically charged group of poster artists, printmakers and activists ‘linked to the formation of Canberra first printmaking collective, Megalo International Screenprint Collective in 1980’[1], and became the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, which still survives. The acclaimed printmaker and sculptor G.W. Bot first exhibited at Bitumen River.

Within a review of Gorring’s work from the 1986 exhibition ,Sonia Barron states that Gorring ‘makes art out of her environment and life’…[she states the work holds the subject matter of]… ‘life in small town NSW’, that it ‘reflects an honest humor close to the reality of her own life’[2], Barron finds the linocut prints to be the most satisfying work in the exhibition. Similarly, as a print curator I lean towards the relief print work on show, some made from foam blocks, and printed onto material. Gorring’s sculptural works continue the, ‘make do and mend’ aesthetic within her prints; they seem like considered folk art made of recycled materials and therefore complement the works on walls. Many are depictions of rabbits that she often sees on walks, made from bitumen covered aluminium flashing, wood, felt, and plastic. Gorring states: ‘I love that I can use recycled things and I make them spontaneously.’[3] The artist also constructs the plinths.

The artist now lives in Allendale, in Victoria, and her title to this exhibition: ‘A’Dale and Beyond’, is a reference to the town.

Gorring states: ‘Most of the images are of local characters and their fauna and flora and their quirky habits or just seemingly mundane rituals which are all interesting and entertaining to me as observer. I don’t mean to take the piss out of the locals, I am just interested and fascinated by the human condition. Sometimes I place myself in the picture as well laugh at myself as well.’[4] The A’dale works lie in the first room of the exhibition. Gorring refers to the individual print of four farmers kneeling in this first room, as genuflecting in their fields. The farmers stance, appreciating their paddocks, hits home as a common scene. And is but one direct reference to religious imagery in every day life within this exhibition. Later an image of an iron has a tripartite structure, and the domestic appliance in the foreground of the print is given icon status, while the figure of the artist is seen laughing. Why not use such a rich tradition of image making by co-opting the language of the church? Interestingly the heads of the farmer figures as polystyrene blocks were cut off the blocks and moved before printing, so the figures heads assume a cocked position. Slightly on one side, slightly wondering.

The works with subject matter ‘Beyond’ Allendale are from numerous places, some within Australia, such as National Parks in New England, Wee Waa, Warrabah National Park, (Near Tamworth), and the Warrumbungles., as well as artist residencies in Nepal, Dehli, and South East Asia. The works from Nepal and South East Asia, the artist states, are ‘small coloured offerings [that] are made from plaster, felt paint pipe cleaners, lino., found objects, and are a result of … watching women make the offerings. I love the simple making and ritual around these’.[5]

We are starting to see some of the places that make up this artist’s palate. I am graced with the memory of exhibitions at Helen Maxwell Gallery in 2007 of an Indian subject matter. In 2006 Gorring spent three months travelling in at the Global Art Village in New Dehli, India. Gorring’s India is larger than life, joyous laughing yogis[6], are interspersed with completely disjunctive, inanimate objects; dentures, glass eyeballs, images of police, and partially decipherable text, which filter through the background of the works. In 2001 the artist spent ten months in China living in Jangsu Provence and similar parochial Chinese township references filter through these works.

I visited Gorring’s home and studio, after she returned from a further excursion in South East Asia for two months in 2007/8, and viewed a great deal of work made with Styrophome, and popsicle sticks, printed on tissue and canvas. Gorring very generously donated two works to the CSU Art Collection at that time Spiralina Spiral, 2008, oil pastel collographs on rice paper, in a long landscape format, and How to Bind a Long Stump, 2008, a four colour polystyrene print on canvas which was hanging in her house. The latter a reinterpretation of a sign she saw. The work, initially colorful intriguing, then phallic, and ultimately thoughtful, regarding issues of landmines, and disease in South East Asia. The existence, and display of such a sign highlighting the inequality in living standards, income, and health care within the Asia Pacific region.

Furthermore, I viewed Gorring’s work in a group exhibition at Tacit Contemporary Art Gallery in Melbourne last year. The colour and life within her work was the first thing that one saw on entering the gallery. Instead of being enclosed in the usual boundaries of a blackwood frame, with Perspex glazing to protect from the elements, and age, Gorrings works on paper, in contrast, were boldly covering the wall with figurative colour. Each work easily accessible to a viewer. One could read a story from the groupings of people from across the street, like a good tattoo. The work makes me happy, excited by print.

On viewing this display at Swan Hill I am swiftly reminded that the print work is unique. Not in the sense that this print artist produces monoprints, for many of the works are part of a low, four or five print edition, but the imagery she revels in the structure of the work, technique, and empathy with the subject matter is unique to this artist. The work by this talented printmaker, who has attended classes by the master printmaker Ken Tyler, and the master lithographer Kaye Green has made the implicit decision to work in this form, with non-traditional materials, and make these unique marks. This conscious aesthetic decision also makes me happy.

A talented artistic sensibility and balanced use of colour, all packaged in a democratically available component, that on the surface provides fun, and when really viewed, many meanings writhe and wriggle for prominence; be it signposts for poverty, the raising of ones voice regarding inequality, women’s rights, or alternative political or religious practices.

Within the seeming mundanities of small town NSW, there be monsters. David Lynch’s ear in the grass can be seen in the work through a crooked smile, reminiscent of the ‘Rose Street Girls’ of Barbara Hanrahan’s prints, or through subtle indicators of code like text.

Susan Steggell compares Gorring’s work with that of Roaslie Gascoigne, in a 1999 Imprint article, possibly because, at this time she was living in the Monaro landscape, near Nimmitabel. A landscape extremely reminiscent of Gascoigne’s work. Steggel states; that the landscape is co-opted within Gorring’s art with a great deal of ‘humane empathy’[7], rather than a desire to possess it.

Furthermore she states that the recurring detail items as background are not just patterning, but, ‘a process which contributes to the overall meaning of a work, carrying information, communicating mood…like punctuation marks in a narrative or a poem, the pauses and rushes in direct speech’[8], and that she has subverted numerous male dominated art world, and artistic practices, created her own direct conventions within her practice, and language which stem directly from her, and her surroundings. I wholeheartedly agree that the rich backgrounds tell a further story, and the textual analogy is marvellous. However, the possibility that the artist can step outside patriarchal systems, with this work is a stretch, in my mind. Her work, is an important unique voice, marvellous in its detail, and direct connection to everyday life, full of wonder.

Sasha Grishin states about Gorring’s work that it shows, ‘a remarkable inventive genius, and a very personalized artistic vision’.[9] And Sasha’s essay on her work is definitely worth reading.

Gorring sent me 31 images from the show but it’s very hard to talk to a digital image of the work, the textures, the detail, colour, shape, impact and size of the work. The initial feeling when encountering Gorring’s interpretation of her surroundings, and the take away feeling are so different, that one has to experience the work in real life. The eventual ‘giving in’ to the nature of the commonplace materials, within her work, are all important to the experience. So I am happy she invited me here to experience this exhibition, to see her progression, as an artist in this gallery is overwhelming. I must thank Swan Hill for having the foresight to put on such an exhibition.

Lastly I understand that this work is part of a larger project. The artist is in Swan Hill because she proposed an exhibition to the director of the Swan Hill Regional Gallery, Ian Tully. Gorring is a frequent contributor to the Swan Hill Print and Drawing awards. But also, she is exhibiting as part of a Youth Engagement Program, she is running workshops, and some of these young artists’ work is in the adjoining gallery. Gorring was also an art teacher, in various TAFE NSW campuses in Maitland, Newcastle, and Cooma from 1979-2008. This pedagogical link with community, with young artists, and with this place, seems so very fitting within the context of Gorring’s work. All her work responds to place. And she has her feet in the ground of this place, whilst the exhibition is showing.

Jackie Gorring, A’Dale and Beyond, Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery until 18 June http://gallery.swanhill.vic.gov.au/2017/04/the-adale-and-beyond/

 

 

[1] Wawrzynczak, Anni Doyle. ‘The age of individual alienation is withering …’ Canberra’s bitumen river gallery [online]. Art Monthly Australia, No. 259, May 2013: 35-38. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=371339040219544;res=IELLCC> ISSN: 1033-4025. [cited 20 Apr 17].

[2] Barron Sonia, ART Fabric of an honest life, The Canberra Times, 15 October 1986, p.25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gorring, Jackie, Email from the artist dated 14 March 2017.

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[5] Ibid.

[6] Gorring made numerous printmaking works of the Laughing Yoga Club of Dehli.

[7] Susan Steggell, Home is where the art is… IMPRINT magazine, Autumn 1999, Volume 34, Number 1, p. 14, 15.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Grishin, Sasha, Jackie Gorring Biography, from www.contemporary-famousartists.com