Janis Clarke
Living a life that's perfectly still

20 September – 7 October 2023


Artist Talk: Richard Morecroft interviews Brett McMahon, Michelle Cawthorn and Janis Clarke

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Janis Clarke Living a life that's perfectly still

Olsen Annexe | 20 September – 7 October

Moonlight on water. The silhouette of a tree against the sky. A blue house. These are glimpses, snapshots, scenes internalised and condensed, that prompt us to consider the very act of looking.

At the heart of the exhibition is a cropped-in face – the only visible figure in the show. Eyes left blank or downcast, our own gaze is drawn to the patches of shade and light on the figure’s forehead – planes of colour on a rectangular space that echoes its own small canvas. ‘Apricity,’ or the sensation of the warmth of the sun on your skin in winter, is bound up in these planes of colour and the feeling, thinking world of the mind behind the surface.

Homing-in on tight compositions, through flat, still planes, devoid of superfluous detail, Janis Clarke is considering the way we see and experience the world, not through the panoramic, detailed ‘realities’ captured by realist painting or photography, but through the lived experience of looking. Painting, with its boundless possibilities can offer a way to share what has actually been seen and felt.

Working predominantly at night, each tightly composed scene is an observation that has ‘etched a little place in my brain and soaked in,’ says Clarke. In each image, stillness freezes the moment as memory, refracted and replayed, deciphered and dwelled in.

As with Apricity, the titles of these paintings offer additional layers to each work. Bus stop blues captures a distinct moment of feeling uplifted after recognising the beauty of a tree outlined against the sky and forgetting the frustrations of the day. Paramnesia, or the distortion of memory, with its black mass of shadowy silhouette obscuring an orange moon, hints at uncertainty. Whilst Road painting, though seemingly innocuous, points to the lines criss-crossing the Earth’s paved surfaces as hidden artworks outlining the landscape, and to painting itself as a form of labour. The descriptive title Window and pink lampshade fills in concrete details rendered at one remove through the image’s flat planes of colour.  

In this way, Clarke’s works hover between depiction and abstraction, leaving our minds to complete the image and inhabit the painted moment. Absorbed in these images, the perfectly still and soundless might spring back to movement as we momentarily glimpse what the artist sees.   

Susannah Smith, Editor of Look magazine, Art Gallery Society, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Video tour: Janis Clarke

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Please note: Works may no longer be available as shown and prices may be subject to change to reflect current market value. Please contact the gallery for assistance. Thank you

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