Gravity & Chance

Jennifer duToit-Barrett interviews
Jenny Reddin


Art editor Jennifer duToit-Barrett recently had this exchange with Issue #42 featured artist Jenny Reddin. Here’s what Jenny had to say about poured paint art, art’s role in activism, environmental devastation in her home country of Australia, and more… 
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Art editor Jennifer duToit-Barrett recently had this exchange with Issue #42 featured artist Jenny Reddin. Here’s what Jenny had to say about poured paint art, art’s role in activism, environmental devastation in her home country of Australia, and more… 

“The Very Stupid Man” reflects on the great, increased knowledge of man but at the detriment to the planet. I can only assume that you are an advocate for the health of the earth. Can you give us more detail into what inspired this story?

I live on acreage in the beautiful Yarra Valley in Victoria, Australia.  It’s a hobby farm and we have horses and occasionally a few head of cattle.  It is a truly beautiful part of the world with its gently rolling hills and its rich variety of native animals and birds. The drive into town needs to be done fairly slowly to avoid hitting kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and echidna that have wandered into the path of the car. We are woken in the morning by the sound of the local magpie family calling to each other or by the sound of a Kookaburra in the nearest gum tree. This is all very beautiful but its struggling. We just got through the hottest summer on record – a summer where birds could not launch themselves because the air was too hot and they fell out of the sky. One of my earlier series was called Catastrophe. The title of the series related to the way in which I create works – every one of them is a minor catastrophe because of the way I work. But it also relates to what is arguably the worst of our human traits – the difficulty we have understanding that every action we take has a consequence. The consequence can be good or bad or both.

I see farmers around me doing something as simply as cutting hay every year off the same paddock without realising that every time they cut hay, they remove nutrient from their property.  They wonder why their yield is dropping and their weed load is increasing and they are starting to see erosion happening.  They blame the weather and the lack of rain and they do have an impact but they fail to recognise that their soil is depleted and couldn’t possibly grow a decent crop.  I fear that this lack of considering consequences is not just borne of ignorance but may also be the result of economic induced blindness.  Where there is a negative economic impact on an environmentally appropriate decision, the choice will generally ignore or overlook the consequences.  Koalas in Australia have become an endangered species largely because property developers have been able to buy up huge tracts of native forest (habitat), bulldoze trees, remove topsoil and put in subdivisions for people who needs roadways, sewerage systems and shopping centres.  People with cats and dogs move into these areas and though they are asked to keep pets contained they fail to understand (although they are told regularly) that their pets will decimate the local wildlife population.  Never mind, maybe that is what Zoos are for after all.

Do you see power in the role of an artist to advocate for the sustainability of the planet’s resources?

I strongly feel that artists are in a unique position to be able to influence and advocate for sustainability and there are some truly wonderful artists doing inspiring works here in Australia and overseas.  

Some of your works call to mind aerial photos of natural earth elements: the Colorado and Mississippi Rivers, Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring, glaciers, and wildfire, among many others. It’s clear you draw inspiration from the natural world around you. Are there areas in particular that have inspired this series?

I agree many of the works are inspired by photographs from the NASA website of the earth from the moon (I did a series called If you could see what I see that was based on Carl Sagan’s book, The Pale Blue Dot). I also research environmental issues that result in major shifts of landscape as a result of climate change; for example, the wildlife rich mangrove swamps along the Queensland coast line have all but disappeared due to the warming oceans.  The consequences of this loss will have massive impact for years to come, if not for ever.

On the other hand, these pieces also resemble toxic leaching—oil seeping into waterways and minerals changing the colors of water and land. Can you speak to what informs your choice of color/lack of color? 

Color is partially informed by the performance of the pigment.  Different raw ingredients in pigments have a different specific gravity and therefore drop out of solution at different rates.  It is this falling out of solution that gives me the erosion effect.  I love mixing black because there are so many beautiful ways to make black, and when I mix it using for example alizarin red, veridian green and ultramarine blue, each of the pigments separate during the pour to give me highlights, depth and colour as well as a really intense black.  Red is a favourite colour because it is so expressive.  At times its angry, always passionate, energetic and in your face – it shouts.  Red is a great colour to use because the pigment drops out of solution quickly which gives me the erosion effect.  Generally I use transparent colours because I want the white canvas to gleam through the paint colour, making it glow.  The pieces look quite different in the flesh to their photographic reproductions because the camera struggles to pick up the luminosity of the work.

I’d love to know more about your process, specifically the creation of texture and negative space. For example, in some of the pieces, there’s a great deal of negative space or material that has been removed or “stopped.” How do you control the paint? Do you utilize additives or drying agents to control the flow of paint?

I describe myself as a poured paint artist.  I use gravity and chance as my paint brushes and over time I have learned to trust that if I prepare the canvas well, the paint virtually knows where it needs to go.  Well that is true to a degree.  Also over the years I have learned to mix my pigment/solvent and medium to just the right viscosity so that it flows but not at a rate where it runs away from me.  I have learned to pour just the right amount so that I don’t “drown” the work.  I use an acrylic layer under the oil paint solution which I gives me some of my texture.  It provides an almost glass smooth surface which at time attracts the pigment and at times it repels it (I have no idea why and I never try to interfere for fear of it becoming “muddy”). Once poured I manipulate the canvas and the support to influence the path of the paint.  Once poured there is very little I can do.  In fact the less I do the better.  If I have a multi-coloured pour I need to avoid “mixing” the colours to make them opaque and muddy.  The only things I use in the process of production is pigment (oil paint) solvent and medium.  there are no other additives.To pour the paint I collect used water bottles and discarded take away coffee cups and distort them to create perfect utensils by squeezing them and punching holes in them.

How do you approach making a new piece? Run us through a typical “pour.”

I have found over the years that the right state of mind is vital before starting a pour.  Meditation is a good way to clear the mind and allow the creative process to take over.  In the early days I used to try to formulate an idea of what I wanted the end product to look like.  These works almost always failed because I would try to interfere and impose my will on the work.  I have learned after many failed canvases that my work doesn’t come from my conscious brain but from my subconscious and I mustn’t let one get in the way of the other.  The acrylic underlayer gives me a “profile” that guides the pour.  Once poured however the only thing I can do is guide semi remotely.  The white spaces occur for a reason I have not worked out other than changes in surface tension. I cannot wipe back successfully without staining the canvas which changes the very nature of the work.

By Jenny Reddin

Jenny Reddin is an award winning Australian artist who is held in collections in the USA, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. She describes herself as a poured paint artist who uses gravity and chance as her paint brushes. Her works are often reminiscent of aerial photography of geographical features. This series employs a Rorschach technique to give her a symmetrical image that references skulls and fossils of prehistoric man.