Revered contemporary artist Janet Laurence presents What Colour is the Sacred? at ARC ONE Gallery this March. Following her acclaimed exhibition, The matter of the masters, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Laurence will exhibit a new work using elements and concepts of the museum installation inspired by conservation research undertaken at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Laurence’s recent body of work investigates the intersection of art, science and nature through an analysis of artists’ materials and their origins. With a specific focus on the work of Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, Laurence explores the ‘physiology of a painting’ in her modular vitrines and haunting images derived from botanical illustrations and x-ray fluorescence scans. The exhibition harks back to the artist’s earlier alchemical works (with her research beginning 12 years ago) and reveals a view of colour from its source in the nature of the world.
From natural history collections she has sourced raw pigments and binders, commonly found in paintings, and presents these substances as scientific experiments or specimens in individual ‘cabinets of curiosity’. Interested in a scientific analysis of colour, Laurence likens her contained installations to an anatomy lesson, or a ‘medical examination’ of paintings. Elements such as eggshells, bone, and minerals are gathered, revealing the organic origins of the old masters’ materials and how they were subsequently transformed into powerful human stories and cultural objects. In providing an artistic interpretation of the palette of this era, Laurence stresses that all matter stems from the environment and that nature and culture are deeply entwined.
The exhibition also features Laurence’s iconic mixed-media wall work, including a long frieze with a series of panels moving between fluids and images, matter and light, fractured and fragile landscapes. Her Plants bleed lakes depicts a spectral range of colours sourced from plants paired with their botanical illustrations to reveal the scientific roots. Colours created by plants, often referred to as ‘lakes’, are transparent and fugitive by nature, like nature. Taking her title from Michael Taussig’s book of the same name, Janet Laurence’s What Colour is the Sacred? is an intelligent and beautiful meditation on the mysteries of colour, creative alchemy, and the enduring primacy of the earth.
Janet Laurence is a Sydney-based artist who exhibits nationally and internationally. Renowned as one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists, her practice examines our physical, cultural and conflicting relationship to the natural world. She creates immersive environments that navigate the interconnections between organic elements and systems of nature. Within the recognised threat to so much of the life world, she explores what it might mean to heal, albeit metaphorically, the natural environment, fusing this with a sense of communal loss and search for connection with powerful life-forces.
Her work is included in museum, university, corporate and private collections as well as within architectural and landscaped public places. Key collections include: NGA, Canberra; AGNSW, Sydney; NGV, Melbourne; QAG, Brisbane; AGSA, Adelaide; Artbank Australia; Macquarie Bank Collection; and Kunstwerk Summlung Klein, Germany.
Recent significant projects include: Listen, to the Sound of Plants, Australian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne (2017); The Pleasure of Love, October Salon, Belgrade (2016); Deep Breathing: Resuscitation for the Reef, for the Paris Climate Change Conference (2015) and the Paris International Contemporary Art Fair (2015), followed by the installation Deep Breathing at the Australian Museum, Sydney (2016); Tarkine for a World in Need of Wilderness, Macquarie Bank Foyer, London (2011); In Your Verdant View, Hyde Park Building, Sydney (2010); Waterveil, CH2 Building for Melbourne City Council; Memory of Lived Spaces, Changi T3 Airport Terminal, Singapore; Elixir, permanent installation for Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Japan (all 2006); The Australian War Memorial (in collaboration with TZG Architects), Hyde Park, London (2003); In the Shadow, Sydney 2000 Olympic Park, Homebush Bay (2000); Veil of trees, Sydney Sculpture Walk (with Jisuk Han); 49 Veils, award-winning windows for the Central Synagogue, Sydney (with Jisuk Han, 1999); The Edge of the Trees (with Fiona Foley), Museum of Sydney (1994); and The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Australian War Memorial, Canberra (with TZG Architects, 1993).
Laurence has been a recipient of Rockefeller, Churchill and Australia Council fellowships; recipient of the Alumni Award for Arts, UNSW; and is currently visiting fellow at the NSW University Art and Design; Australian representative for the COP21/FIAC, Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015 exhibition; visiting fellow of the 2016/2017 Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK) foundation fellowship; and artist in residence at the Australian Museum.
Her work, The matter of the masters, was recently shown at AGNSW in association with the Rembrandt and Dutch Masters exhibition.