Bendigo Art Gallery Curator, Clare Needham in conversation with contemporary artist Jahnne Pasco-White the 2019 winner of Bendigo Art Gallery’s prestigious Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize.
Clare: Your winning work messmates 1, is fleshy and visceral. Can you talk a bit about the relationship of this work and the title messmates to the body?
Jahnne: messmates refer to the populous bacterial companions in and of the body. This work came out of the experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering, which for me, forged new networks of kinship, and demanded that I took notice of others with whom I was already co-constituted. Enabling a life that I could see, touch, smell and hear laid bare the fact that I had always shared my body with countless messmates. My life’s companions. Making a baby was a co-production of kith and kin, both external and internal, of give and take. messmates 1 was assembled from a range of materials drawing on my daily experiences of parenting and this newfound domesticity. By repurposing fabrics found in the home alongside more traditional art materials this work became a fleshy material archive imbued with stains, bringing together a fusion of artmaking that is not separate from life but embedded in daily encounters.
Clare: Why do you choose to drape and hang your paintings loosely from the wall or ceiling and not stretch them over a stretcher or contain them within a conventional frame?
Jahnne: I am interested in the textural make up of things. The various layers become an integral part in the assemblage of a work, both singularly and as an installation. I almost exclusively begin new paintings from parts of old works or found fabrics and this often informs the imperfect shape. By exposing the uneven edges, the threads that make up the fabrics, this allows access into the processes of making well beyond my own. I like the idea of stretching the way we encounter painting/drawing and consequently the way the installation of works as bodies presented together and how they operate in relation to each other and within the architecture is of huge importance. messmates 1 came out of a larger series of work, titled messmates, that consisted of eleven overlapping panels spanning more than 25-metres in length across four gallery walls.
Clare: How do you put your paintings together? To what extent is your process and combination of materials and mediums systematic and premeditated or spontaneous?
Jahnne: I often begin by reworking older works, cutting them into pieces and reconfiguring the pieces by sewing them together in a different form, this becomes the first layer. From there I spend a lot of time gathering materials from the local environment to make natural dyes with found fabrics. Using these fabrics, alongside drawings and watercolours made with my daughter, notes, offcuts etc the works are largely collaged together over a process of months to years. My process of assembling is very much responsive to what is on hand, which of course is always changing.
Clare: What motivated you to enter the Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize?
Jahnne: My partner mostly. I always experience a certain feeling of vulnerability entering a competition. At times repeated rejections can be a deterrent overtime. I remember an old art teacher telling me about how they had applied for so many grants over so many years that they still applied but began to stop ever reading the replies. In this instance they had thrown the response in a pile and left it for weeks. Eventually the letter was opened to reveal news of winning a major grant that changed the course of their career.
Clare: How has winning this prestigious prize impacted your career?
Jahnne: To be honest I was shocked I was even shortlisted. Being exhibited at Bendigo Art Gallery alongside so many talented artists was exciting enough, the concept of winning didn't even enter my mind. I am still in total disbelief. This opportunity has shaped my career but also life in so many layers. In particular, having a young child at the time of winning the Prize meant that I have been able to be present both as a parent and an artist and I feel deeply grateful for that.
Clare: The trope of the lone artistic genius making art without distraction still persists. This is not the reality for most artists, especially artists with children. How do you connect to your creative practice as a parent and has becoming a mother altered your approach or focus?
Jahnne: Huge elements of work are made at home, any dying and sewing, much is done walking through collecting materials and thinking and the time in the studio is generally very purposeful and busy but now also completely dependent on and informed by the labour and encounters that occur outside the studio.
Clare: What are you working on at the moment?
Jahnne: I am working on a body of work to be shown in Sydney with STATION gallery and a wall drawing that will be part of a group exhibition at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery both of which will be on display in the second half of the year.