Friday 31 October 2008

Introducing... Wendy Jagger

Current enCOUNTER exhibitor Wendy Jagger recently took some time off to answer a few questions to give an account of her life and work. Residing in Mansfield, Wendy wakes up to the beautiful view of Mount Buller (pictured below). With such a beautiful view, we're amazed at Wendy's productivity! If yours truly were lcoated in such an idyllic location, you bet we'd be staring at the scenery and sipping iced teas all day long... (or hot chocolates, depending on the weather).

Gathering inspiration from her surroundings, Wendy frequently takes her sketchbook out into the open where she makes preliminary drawings for her ceramic work. As she eloquently puts it:

My field drawings are further developed in the studio, in pencil, charcoal and gouache. Surrounding myself with these illustrations, the imagery evolves on the canvas, worked in oils, or else they are transformed into translucent images within the walls of a vessel, wheel thrown in Southern Ice porcelain.

My unique ceramics involve a laborious technique that incorporates shellac resist and deep etching. Each layer is painted with shellac onto the bone dry body, and then carefully the exposed clay is washed away, leaving an etched surface. This is done repeatedly up to create multiple layers. These layers form a sculptural relief and a tonally rendered image when illuminated.

Drawing has recently entered the decoration of vessels, using multiple applications of underglaze pencil.

The raw landscapes and flora of Australia fill me with a consuming emotional response. Capturing some aspect of this has been a common thread in much of my work over the years and in a range of media.

As we mentioned before, do drop by afterhours do view these marvellous works in twilight. The light of the enCOUNTER window illuminate the ceramics from within, highlighting their translucency and their amazing detail.

Wendy's solo exhibition Elemental Exposure at the Antipodes Bookshop Gallery in Sorrento, June 2006.

On your website you mentioned that you make preliminary drawings/paintings before creating your ceramic works. They must be very beautiful! Tell us a bit more... have you always worked this way and do you keep all your drawings?
Essentially I am a visual person, like all artists, and I have always had a few sketchbooks on the go. I have filled a number of these visual diaries, with pencil drawings, notes, imagery cut from house and design books, even catalogues of patterned bed linen. Basically any imagery that snares my attention finds its way into my books.

My drawings are mostly of landscapes or flora, sometimes of everyday scenes or objects, depending on my mood and where I am. Sometimes a drawing will sit there quietly in the pages for months, even years. I frequently look back over my sketchbooks and some little drawing or image will trigger a thought, a memory, an idea which evolves into something more. It’s interesting to look back and trace the development of a series. My fascination with the trunks of eucalyptus trees and the ravages of fire goes back to my Year 12 Art painting folio, which was based on Ash Wednesday bushfires and my appreciation of Fred Williams’ work.

Have there been many defining life experiences that have greatly influenced/inspired you?
Yes, there definitely has been a number of defining life experiences, although they are not necessarily linked to art, but certainly have impacted on who I am. Firstly, almost 20 years ago (wow, is it really so long ago?) I had an abseiling accident and fell about 13 metres. I was extremely lucky, sustaining only a broken pelvis, shoulder and head injuries. When I emerged from the confusion of amnesia and finally got back on my feet, it was like being given a second chance. So, I’ve since kept up an internal mantra of “life is not a dress rehearsal”.

A couple of years later in the early 90’s, I worked as the Programme Director for the International Scout Centre in Kandersteg, Switzerland. (This gorgeous alpine village was just listed an article in The Age about top walking destinations). I worked here for 3 ½ years, leading an international staff and co-coordinating a host of outdoor and cultural activities. This was truly a most amazing, challenging and fulfilling experience and anyone who visits or works there carries its magic with them.

The birth of my daughter was life defining. She was hard won, I can tell you and I never thought I would have the honour of being a mother, but she proved me wrong! It was during those mid night feeds that the concept for my porcelain lights was conceived.

Finally at Easter this year, I won an award for one of my paintings in the Mt Buller Art Prize. One of the judges was Patrick McCaughey, former Director of NGV. He also wrote the definitive biography of Fred Williams. His words of encouragement are invaluable.

The translucency of your ceramics are breathtaking! Is Southern Ice porcelain difficult to work with?
Porcelain is like the ‘grande dame’ of clays and sometimes behaves like one! Over the years, like many ceramists, I’ve explored a different clays and techniques. Southern Ice is beautiful and the more you challenge it, the more it gives you. You must be prepared to lose a lot of work though. I probably lose 1/3. However, it is the very quality you’ve identified that has me enthralled with porcelain.

Utilizing porcelain’s translucency, I feel like I am painting with light and shade. Whilst my decoration of a vessel has a textural aspect with multiple layers of etching, it is the resultant tonally rendered image that I constantly have in mind as I work through the various stages of creation. It’s almost like seeing an image as a photographic negative when I apply the shellac.

What was the last exhibition that you saw?
Last week I was in Melbourne, setting up my enCOUNTER display and I took my parents to lunch at Monash City Gallery. There I saw the MGA collection of Bill Henson’s work – hauntingly beautiful imagery. I also took part in Mansfield’s Spring Arts Walk, visiting several exhibitions around my new home town. It is a very exciting and stimulating event, which continues over the coming long weekend.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in Secondary school, I did work experience as a nurse and continued doing voluntary work for 6 months. The art got the better of me though, and I ended up doing a B. Ed (Art & Craft) at MCAE. This was a fantastic course, where we gained a grounding in 10 studio areas. This breadth of experience has helped me over the course of my career of teaching and self-expression. A shame they axed such a worthwhile course!

If you could do anything in the world tomorrow, what would it be?
It’s selfish, but if I could do whatever I wanted, I would take my husband and daughter to Mauritius to meet my extended family. My parents immigrated in the early 60’s. Then I would go on to Kandersteg, Switzerland, where David and I worked, so that we could show our daughter a place dear to our hearts.

And last but not least, what's the best piece of advice someone has given you?
Rod Parry was one of my lecturers at Holmesglen TAFE, where I studied for my Dip. Arts Ceramics. He instilled a belief in ourselves and a drive to seek out opportunities. Pricing one’s artwork is always difficult, as you become so involved and just a little subjective. He said: “You are not selling your work to yourself and your (student) budget. You must imagine your target market and price accordingly. Do not underestimate the value of your art,” or words to that effect anyway. Point taken, as I just heard the painting I won a prize with this year was professionally valued, at more than double my original price!
The amazing view from Wendy's front door. What mountain? All we can see is envy...

The process of deep etching.

A shot of Wendy's sketchbook of a work in progress.

A glowing Wendy after winning the 2008 Mt Buller Art Prize (Mansfield Shire section) for her painting titled Regeneration

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