The theme of ‘new life’ has encouraged the 21 artists of Visionaries who have contributed work for this exhibition to pursue a diversity of insights, ranging from their interpretation of the theme in biblical passages to the many ways that new life is viewed in the natural world and the expression of personal stories and experiences. These approaches are often linked through the choice of visual symbolism. Together with this diversity of approach to the theme is the diversity of media used.
While some works can be read and interpreted by the viewer almost at a glance others require a slow, contemplative approach to discover the layers of meaning in delicate visual line, colour and figures. Certain works are very contemporary in making statements about current issues in the community. There is work which refers to new growth after bush fires and other work which highlights the refugee experience. The explanation or story in the artists’ statements often sheds the light of extra meaning on what is before the eyes.
This is certainly an exhibition in which artists use a wide range of media. There are the works, large and small, in oil or acrylic on canvas, the works in water based media on paper, watercolour and gouache, several works using mixed media, paper weaving works, ceramics and waxed paper vessels, etching, and works using fabric and thread which are sometimes recycled from a previous use, glazes on timber, a piece of wire sculpture and photography. Sharon Roberts has chosen to use traditional pigments rather than new synthetic ones. It is an interesting and exciting exploration of the theme expressed in a wide range of ways. It celebrates ways in which new life regularly emerges across all of creation and also the new life which is God’s gift in Christ.
In this brief essay I aim to discuss firstly the work which makes direct reference to biblical stories, then the work which makes symbolic reference to these passages. I will then refer to the works which interpret the new life theme in relation to the natural world, to those works which make reference to the artist’s personal story of new life experience and then to the work which includes reference to issues of social responsibility to offer new and better life. Certainly some of the artists are interested in expressing more than one aspect of these approaches. Jennii Gould’s paper weaving works celebrate the victory of Christ’s cross in her use of colour and movement of line. Geraldine Wheeler’s “Rose Window: Four Resurrection Appearances” seeks to incorporate four of the biblical stories into one design, using the gouache stencil medium which resembles stained glass with its black paper lines. Joy Harris employs the Pentecost theme symbolically, while Kerry Holland has the theme of Visitation, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth when both are pregnant with Jesus and John (the Baptist) respectively and she thinks of the way they spent time together. Rosemary Hennii uses the theme of new covenant. From the Old Testament Jennifer Long draws upon the concept of “Exodus” for a diverse expression of work using etching and vessels and Mariangela Bonasia-Lewis goes back to the original Genesis story of creation.
Several of the artists employ other symbolic biblical references. Dianne Minnaar’s “Resurrection”, which is used for the poster, has the newly emerged butterfly as the symbol of Jesus’ resurrection and her other works, all of which employ a contemporary icon style, also use the symbolism of a natural object, a lily and a seed, as indeed did Jesus in parables. Marcellien Hunt uses both the white lily and the poppy with similar symbolic reference to the biblical story. In mediaeval manuscripts, e.g. the Book of Kells, a page with the Greek letters beginning the title, Christ, chi (X) and rho (P) or (Chr in English letters), is highly decorated before the passage in Matthew 1: 18ff which tells of the birth of Jesus. This has inspired me to use an Australian bush tree, a brachychiton, as symbolic of Advent in doing a chi-rho page design.
New Life is depicted through a range of images from the natural world in several works. Dona Spencer gives us “The Garden of Life” and Laura McDade has photographed three of her symbolic floral works for the seasons of spring, summer and autumn. The almond trees in flower by Murhaf Obeid are expressive of both the beauty of the flowers and the new life for refugees such as he has found in Australia. Juana Bernardo pictures the regrowth which regularly happens in the natural world as in new growth after the devastation of bush fires. Marion McConaghy’s “Malleolus Novellus” offers several images combined with levels of meaning, from elderly grandmother and new born child to new life in the vine seen in diverse ways across the natural world. Deb Mostert expresses the theme with a series of birds each of which has its contribution of life and purpose.
Many a gardener watches new leaves emerging in plants in pots or in the garden as suggested in my “New Leaf Emerging”.
Some artists have expressed very personal experiences as has Barb Niczynski as she found her way back to doing art with fabric after major problems with her sight, an eye condition which prevents her doing her usual careful, detailed drawings. Sue Oliver’s works also arise from her experience of major health problems, using tiny pieces of knitting or crochet done by her grandmother to symbolise the tiny parts of the human body, the work expressing both brokenness and healing. Gregg Nowell expresses the need for and experience of renewal by depicting various aspects of nature. Many of the works invite the empathy of the viewer for the artist and the making of links with the viewer’s own experience. Sharon Roberts challenges the viewer in “Choose”, both in interpreting her painting and in life’s choices.
While Murhaf Obeid’s work expresses the refugee experience as, for the fortunate ones, the offer of a new life, Tricia Reust’s series of three works, one pastel and two mixed media on canvas, express how she sees the need for people to open themselves, crack open the jar, to see and respond to the needs of the world and its peoples.
The exhibition also includes three dimensional works, Jennifer Long’s “Exodus” , Kerry Holland’s “Visitation III” and Tanya Van Reijsen’s “Shells of Protection” which is a sculpture piece using wire and eggshells. Shells protect the life within. “The Rebirth Coat” by Barb Niczynski, when around the shoulders, is also three dimensional. There is also Jennii Gould’s artist’s book.
While visual art can be viewed in terms of the medium and the artist’s skill in its use, to make works of visual art and then to view and study them has other depth dimensions, the artist’s thinking, the layers of media and meaning in the work itself and the way that the viewer studies, contemplates and enters into the experience of looking, feeling and understanding.
The artists of Visionaries once again thank the staff of ACU for the invitation to contribute to the life of the university through this exhibition, especially during these unusual and more difficult times for all. The exhibition cancelled in 2020 finds new life in 2021.
Geraldine Wheeler, co-ordinator of Visionaries