Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.
— Janet Dawson from Three Solo Shows
We have shown a number of Janet Dawson’s works in group exhibitions over the years but this is the first solo show. Relations began decades ago when she was living in country New South Wales, so contact was not easy, but when she recently came to live in Ocean Grove that problem disappeared, particularly since she is now living near Guy Stuart, one of her oldest artist friends from their Gallery A days. If currently his theme is the land, hers is the sky. She looks at clouds with the interested eye of the collector or the searching gaze of one looking for a friend in a crowd. It’s difficult not to think of Hamlet poking gentle fun at Polonius’s ability (and ours) to interpret shapes so variously.
... yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
.... tis most like a camel, indeed.
... Methinks it is like a weasel.
... It is backed like a weasel.
... Or like a whale?
... Very like a whale.
Tempting though this may be, it should never distract from the deftness of the graphic touch and the almost mesmerising fascination we all experience when gazing at clouds.
His subject is the land – and its trees – but his handling is suggestive rather than literal, and the aim is to evoke rather than depict. He explores visually from three angles; in some he looks up at trees on a hillside; in others, down from, say, a bridge or a knoll, at a creek or valley. In both, the sky plays little or no part. The third takes a level-eyed perspective which, if the subject is a cliff-face, will give a similar sense of enclosedness to the previous two, but if the subject is a more open landscape, the result is a more open painting.
If these elements have been apparent, in greater or lesser degrees for many years, these recent works show an increasingly exploratory approach to colour. The trees are bolder for being blue and the landscape more inviting for being more loosely and swiftly brushed.
This is his second show with this gallery, though I have been an admirer since 1971 and a collector since 1982. The works in this exhibition come mostly from two sources. First, from the collection of Mirka Mora (with whom he had a famous affair in the late 1950s) and the remainder from the collection of David Draffin (who had known his work well from his time as gallery assistant at South Yarra Galleries, where Don exhibited in the 60s and 70s).
The range is extensive – from the jewelled, all-over surfaces of the 50s - which Gary Catalano argued were closer to American abstraction than to much of the Sydney artists of the period - through to the music-inspired works commissioned for the Arts Centre. It also includes work centred around his interest in Eastern mysticism, as well as studies for his brief but bold approach to the human figure which came to fruition in his suite of life sized portraits of ancient Mesopotamian potentates which were selected for the Helena Rubinstein Scholarship in 1962.