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Sea Change

Paul McGillick visits a new exhibition in Sydney which reveals the power of works on paper and the power of the sea.

Sea Change


February 7th, 2012

A few weeks ago I wrote about the great Matisse exhibition at Brisbane’s GoMA which celebrates the power of making simple marks on pieces of paper.

Now, a new show has opened at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum in Sydney which reinforces the message that works on paper, including prints, can generate enormous aesthetic power and meaning.

Jennifer Marshall is now in her late 60s and has spent most of her life becoming arguably the finest printmaker in Australia. Akky van Ogtrop (who founded the annual International Works on Paper exhibition some years ago) has curated a survey of her work from 1981 which consists of prints, gouaches on paper and paintings.


The artist’s former East Brunswick studio


Wind and Rising Wave


Submerged, oil on canvas

It is a knockout and anyone disposed to be moved by great art must go. Besides, it is a chance to take the ferry to Manly – always a restorative – followed by a five minute walk along the West Esplanade to see a show appropriately entitled ’Beachcomber’.

Marshall used to be a hardcore abstractionist. But in the early 1980s she began to introduce figurative elements into her work, mainly to do with the sea. Van Ogtrop has put in a 1981 abstract gouache which is a very useful introduction because we can then trace how Marshall’s characteristic marks have evolved to serve a more figurative purpose.


Tempest, colour woodcut. Detail


Countess of Seafield, woodcut

The sea with its surging forms is absolutely right for the kind of marks which go with linocuts (à la Matisse) and woodcuts (Marshall was early on inspired by the German tradition). By exploring the character of these marks Marshall is able to engage with the power and the mystery of the sea.


Bruny, black and white. Detail


Bruny, colour. Detail

This is a master printer at the height of her powers. In fact, it is almost a virtuoso show which reveals the full potential of incisive printmaking, from linocut and woodcut to drypoint and etching, not to mention what happens when these kinds of marks are applied as paint.

Marshall’s achievement is the perfect marriage of technique and meaning, and – like Matisse – a harmony between the recognisable world and its abstract forms.


The artist’s studio, 2011

Beachcomber by Jennifer Marshall is on at Manly Art Gallery & Museum from 3 February to 11 March 2012. Opening hours are 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday.

Jennifer Marshall

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