Country Style



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 australian­

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