Country Style - - PEOPLE GOULBURN NSW -

are in­flu­enced by their en­vi­ron­ment, and land­scape painter Jenny Bell is no ex­cep­tion. For most of her life, Jenny has resided in the NSW South­ern Table­lands, finding in­spi­ra­tion in the coun­try’s un­du­lat­ing pad­docks, kalei­do­scopic skies and tan­gi­ble reminders of those who lived there be­fore her. She makes her aus­tere yet beau­ti­ful works in oil on board — of­ten from the back of a ute around Bo­hara, an 800-hectare property she and her hus­band Rod Ed­wards run 4000 sheep on, near Goul­burn in NSW’S South­ern Table­lands. Her draw­ings and paint­ings speak of a love of her land, and a wider con­nec­tion to place and peo­ple. They de­pict sur­pris­ing glimpses of ru­ral life and the un­set­tling de­tri­tus of past hu­man ac­tiv­ity. Aban­doned stone houses, dis­used shear­ing sheds and for­got­ten fam­ily ceme­ter­ies have been her favoured sub­jects for past solo exhibitions in Can­berra, Mel­bourne and Sydney. “I came to Bo­hara as a young bride when I mar­ried Rod nearly 30 years ago, so I know this coun­try very well,” says Jenny, 57, from her cor­ru­gated-iron stu­dio that ad­joins the fam­ily’s 1930s weath­er­board home. Like her paint­ings, the house’s quiet in­te­rior is a tes­ta­ment to spa­tial sim­plic­ity and un­adorn­ment. “This land has a plain­ness and a grave­ness to it, but it’s in­fin­itely in­trigu­ing to me. I know this place well, but paint­ing is a form of vis­ual think­ing, so ev­ery day I sit and con­tem­plate and it is re­vealed to me anew — there is in­fi­nite scope to use this land­scape as a way of ex­plor­ing, for want of a bet­ter word, ‘life’.” A thought­ful artist, who on oc­ca­sion has cu­rated other exhibitions, and con­trib­utes to art journals, Jenny grew up on a farm 20 min­utes away near Breadal­bane. She didn’t study art at school and had no no­tion of her tal­ent un­til she was 20. Her mem­ory of first pick­ing up a paint­brush, and the sen­sa­tion of brush touch­ing pa­per, has never left her. It still en­trances and has kept her striv­ing for three decades. “I had en­rolled in a screen-print­ing course at the lo­cal TAFE, and the teacher sug­gested I take up paint­ing,” she re­mem­bers. “When I first picked up the brush, I couldn’t be­lieve you could cre­ate another world at the bot­tom of your hand, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It was like an in­stant love af­fair. A home­com­ing, what­ever you want to call it. I re­mem­ber I used to drive home from class elated.” After grad­u­at­ing from Sydney Col­lege of the Arts and the Na­tional Art School, Jenny moved to Lon­don in 1985 and re­calls be­ing over­come the first time she vis­ited the great art gal­leries of Europe and stood in front of mas­ter­pieces she had stud­ied. Never in her wildest dreams did she en­vis­age she would re­turn to the land of her youth, to an ebb and flow marked by shear­ing and lamb­ing. “I was al­ways a farm girl, but go­ing to art school was a com­plete rev­e­la­tion,” she says. “It was life chang­ing, as was trav­el­ling overseas and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the world. I as­sumed that I had out­grown my ru­ral roots, but life has many sur­prises and then I met Rod, and his life was here and I de­cided my life was with him. This placed both op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­straints on me that I have en­deav­oured to utilise all my life. If the only thing you >

are able to see in a day is a cow, then make her your world for that mo­ment.” Jenny’s first solo show was in 1988, but the ar­rival of children — Fay, now 26, fol­lowed by Ella, 24, and Ri­ley, 20 — ne­ces­si­tated a new mode of plein-air prac­tice. It en­dures to this day. “When the children were tiny, it was very hard to work, but Rod knew I needed to paint; he knew it was, in fact, vi­tal,” says Jenny. “So he has made ev­ery ef­fort to make it pos­si­ble. For in­stance, if we were go­ing to draft sheep, he would say, ‘I do need you to help, but bring your paints and I’ll look after the kids,’ or ‘We’ll get the neigh­bours’ kids to help out for a few hours.’” Jenny adds that, close to the house, there were al­ways in­ter­rup­tions, so she started go­ing out alone in the ute. “It was a way of iso­lat­ing my­self, as well as get­ting ac­cess to what I needed to paint, and I still of­ten need that dis­ci­pline to­day,” she ex­plains. “It’s a blessed life, I would say, but rig­or­ous and de­mand­ing. When ev­ery­thing is go­ing badly with work, which is of­ten enough be­cause it gets harder as you get older to sur­prise your­self and main­tain a fresh ap­proach, there is no greater tonic than to dash out and move a mob of sheep.” Her new work, Some Ex­per­i­ments Un­der­neath a Horse, draws on her life­long love of horses, and saw Jenny po­si­tion her­self un­der­neath horses on Bo­hara, as close as her sub­jects would al­low. “These draw­ings probe not the se­duc­tive glossy sur­face but the in­trin­sic qual­i­ties of the work­ing horse,” she says. It seems a fresh per­spec­tive is never to­tally out of reach at Bo­hara. The ex­hi­bi­tion Some Ex­per­i­ments Un­der­neath a Horse will be show­ing from Oc­to­ber 30 to Novem­ber 18 at Aus­tralian Gal­leries, 15 Royl­ston Street, Padding­ton, Sydney. Visit aus­tralian­gal­

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