Welcome to
Jonathan Bowden
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INVISIBLE BRIDGES
Another morning in the life of the art class....

 

I arrive at a quarter to ten with a van full of paints, canvases, art books and bowls or dishes of fruit and flowers for the still life, to find that Allan and his brother Pete have got there first as usual, and have carefully laid out the long tables and chairs in the spacious and well lit Parish centre that we work from, courtesy of St John's Church, who have provided a low rent studio for us for the last four years.

 

The two brothers help me to unload the crates of materials from the van. As I am arranging a still life of figs, apples, and late roses with the branch of an olive tree complete with olives on a blue silk runner over a piece of Liberty's fabric, Pauline strides in, radiating cheerfulness as she always does after her 3km walk down from the hills of Trevallyn.

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Pauline Walden

Pauline had not painted much before she joined the class six months ago, but she had very successfully completed a ceramics and drawing course at TAFE 15 years ago. Like most of the new arrivals, Pauline assumed she would never be able to paint but was prepared to give it a try. After an hour alone with a large sheet of cartridge paper, a stick of charcoal, and a vase of flowers Pauline had produced an elegant line drawing that won instant acclaim from the rest of the class. Since that day she has overcome her natural shyness and self deprecation to produce a series of still life's which simply glow with inner warmth and richness.

 

While Pauline is already absorbed in planning her day's work, Imogen walks in bearing a chocolate cake she has cooked for the class; there are murmurs of appreciation from the rest as painting can be a hungry business as well as a thirsty one and over the course of the morning there is a constant stream of visitors to the kitchen where not only tea but real coffee can be brewed.

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Imogen Hatters

Imogen, who is 19, has a fascination for cats; she would draw nothing else but cats and kittens of all shapes and hues from tortoiseshell to ginger to the pied piper colours her imagination dreams up. But today I gently coax her to look at the still life table and cats take the back burner for the next hour while she turns the little olive branch into a shimmering symphony of purples, greens, and browns.

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Emiel Booth

It is a busy morning with two new arrivals; Emiel, who is also 19, and Gail. Gail, like  Pauline, has children and grandchildren who paint but never tried it herself until a month ago and wants to learn. Gail shows me a sketch book with two rich landscapes in acrylic but admits she struggles with drawing; I demonstrate some elementary perspectives, and how to plan her paintings with a thumbnail drawing before she jumps in at full scale."Look, " I say,' (showing her a Monet Landscape and a Degas nude,) " Degas was the best draughtsman of his generation and even he had to square off on his drawings; if he wasn't ashamed to do it, we needn't be". Gail rushes off to the office where the confident and kindly Rosa photocopies for us at high speed and bargain basement prices. Within minutes Gail has copies of the Monet and the Degas, and her homework for the next two weeks organised.

 

When I get back to the class Emiel is struggling with the drawing for one of the robocop figures which he candidly admits have come to haunt his imagination after an adolescence much occupied with playing Halo on his X box. Emiel seems to know every detail of the armour which clothes these figures, but is hazy as to what lies underneath it.

I sketch out the profile for a male figure standing and holding a gun and he is soon furiously at work clothing it with a highly complex system of brightly coloured plates and flutes jointed like the legs of a grasshopper .

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Jenna Johnson

While I have been starting with the new arrivals Jenna has been quietly setting up her large table at the far end of the studio. Jenna, who is now 37, suffered a stroke four years ago and needs a wheelchair to get around in, but that has in no sense diminished her  engagement with life or her ready wit. We exchange chat about our children while she starts inking up a marble slab I bring to the class each week so that they can all experiment with monotypes- making drawings directly onto a thin skin of oil paint rolled out onto a polished stone slab; a dramatic way of making a single print which was popular among nineteenth century painters.

 

Jenna is a very driven artist who already has an exhibition profile and who works constantly at home with the full support of her husband and family, two of whom, Phoebe and Harry, are still in primary school. Today she is carefully tracing the outline of wintry trees onto a sheet of paper laid over the inked slab, so that when she removes the paper she is left with the hazy ghost of a hillside city framed by meandering lines which in the process of absorbing ink from the slab, have come to resemble trees, or sensuously swaying female figures, or perhaps both. Jenna thrives on exploiting the ambiguities in the way we read images.

 

There is a world of thought and dream in her work which has a dark and brooding side to it akin to some of the Nordic expressionists of the nineteenth century, except that Jenna's world is warmer and more welcoming; there are lights on in the windows of the houses and in many of her paintings there appears and reappears a heart. Sometimes it is clutched by a lonely figure under a waterfall, sometimes it sits in a chair by a fire waiting to surprise the next person who sits there and starts to warm their hands- but there is no need, the heart can do it for them.

 

If it sounds obvious perhaps its meant to be; there are other symbols that we take for granted, like the cross, or the sword, the fish, or the eye which can still convey a potent message when they are used discreetly and with wit, as is this.

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Allan Williams

While Jenna is labouring quietly in her corner I join Allan Williams and his brother Pete who are having another try at oils after a year ago, having tried it and found the medium too heavy and difficult. This time I have suggested a simpler approach, using mostly earth colours which they mix on the palette before being applied to the canvas, and they are much happier with their results.

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Pete Williams

Allan, who has been with my class for six years now has over that time become a skilled and thoughtful painter with a sure sense of composition and a sophisticated sense of colour, after virtually losing the use of his right side from a stroke ten years ago. The stroke has affected his speech but in no way diminished his sense of humour or his goodwill, and he has retained such strength in his left hand that he is the only person in the room who can pick up the heavy marble slab and carry it out to the car one handed.

 

In another corner of the room Sandra has set up a six foot by three canvas onto which she has been by degrees drawing and painting the plan and intricate detail of a an East coast seascape. Sandra works with pastel fixed with Cabothane varnish, a technique she has developed over the course of the last year so that she can use pastel without framing the results behind glass.

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Sandra Petersen

Sandra has paused in her efforts to help advise Emiel who, being something of a perfectionist was not happy with his drawing of another halo inspired warrior, female this time, and was losing patience.Sandra is a confident draughtsman and has sketched him a female Valkyrie. By the time I get to his table Emiel has already clothed her in full body armour but is in doubt about the hand holding the pistol. I help as best I can but curse myself I haven't brought in a little mirror, with the help of which it is quite easy for anyone to sort out anatomical details which would otherwise defy the recall of memory.

 

By the time I get back to Sandra she is, as I requested her to do, offering a demonstration of how she transfers a small image to a large canvas by tracing the source image directly with her left index finger while simultaneously amplifying that movement with her right arm, so that from something the size of a postcard she can accurately, and rhythmically transfer plan and detail to a six foot canvas.

 

Sandra has spent the last 18 months exploring the pastel medium and a month ago, with the assistance of Arts Tasmania, held an impressive solo exhibition of  24 highly accomplished pastel landscapes based on the East Coast seascapes of northern Tasmania at the Northern Club in Launceston.

 

Sandra suffered severe motor damage in a car accident 25 years ago. In the process of rehabilitating herself she has become immensely knowledgeable about neurological damage and how to remedy it; so much so that she founded and ran for 10 years a highly successful therapy centre in Brisbane for people of all ages who had neurological damage or deficit. If anything the clinic was too successful and after 11 years of the 60 hour week Sandra decided it was time for a change and moved to Tasmania.

 

Not every class at the Parish centre is quite as large or as busy as the one I have just described, but all of our once weekly sessions do share a certain pattern. There is always a still life, even if no-one actually paints it; and it changes with every week and every season; it is a point of contemplation in the centre of a turbulent ocean of pastels and paper, oils and canvas, conversation and jokes, art books, inks and miraculously un spilled cups of tea and coffee which usually end up no more than half finished because once anyone starts to paint or draw the keys to conversation are almost entirely mislaid. If there is talk it comes mostly from the other end of the room where a party of churchgoers congregate cheerfully after the ten o'clock service finishes.

 

Before we start to pack up there is a migration of painters around each others paintings and quiet words of appreciation for another artist's work are spoken - or even in one case a request from Jenna; she has seen something in a still life Pete was doing she would like to work on. Would he mind if she had a try? Pete agrees willingly to let his painting leap into the unknown with Jenna and after 20 minutes of quiet concentration Jenna hands it back. Everything Pete had painted was there but the background has been simplified and the edges of the jars and bottles and the bowl of fruit ever so slightly strengthened. The painting is still Pete's but it looks quieter and stronger. I think Pete was pleased, and I know I was because whenever painters have worked alongside each other it has been commonplace for them not just to comment on each others painting but also to copy it, and even for two artists to work on the same painting.

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Jenna and Pete's hands in clay

I think we all learned something by watching Jenna's discreet simplification of another artist's work. I know I did and that the next time I get into trouble with one of my still life's I shall be next in the queue for Jenna's advice. If there is something wrong with a painting I find that another artist can usually spot exactly where the trouble is.

 

In writing this account I have two purposes. One is that I believe every artist's work deserves a public and thrives on it, and there is not a week passes that I don't see a painting produced in this class that I would like to have on my wall. Or if there is not room on my wall, then why not on someone else's?

 

This introduction and the web site are a way of making that introduction, and the paintings shown are all for hire or for sale, some at a modest price which is set by the painter not by me. If an artist has an exhibition record obviously their prices are higher than if they have not. Profits on the hire of any painting or group of paintings go into a fund which covers materials for the group and also the hire of St. John's parish centre, without the use of which this class would not be possible. Those interested in knowing more about the work of the artists and seeing a selection of their work may access my web site www.jbowden.net/invisiblebridges or visit my gallery at 2 Morley Road, Riverside, where I have some work by each artist permanently on display. Phone (03) 63 271242. Please ring first. Jonathan Bowden.

 


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Cheryl

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Phoebe

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Paul Smedley

 

Mary Smith