• Helen Stephens

Introductory Talk, By Genevieve Jacob

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

And how lovely too to be meeting on this brisk midwinter day when we’re reminded so strongly of the weather, and that we do not live under constantly balmy skies in these parts, but in the teeth of fires, gales, heat waves and the very occasional snowstorm.

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Gundungurra people of this region whose footsteps first mapped this place and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I commit myself to ongoing acts of reconciliation.

I first began really looking at Julie’s work when she had her residency in Ireland a few years ago.

The shapes that danced up from the page were so evocative of a country I’ve also travelled through and felt very deep emotions.

A landscape of thunderous skies, of crystalline sunshine sparkling over headlands where the air was pregnant with water, of dark and storm-tossed nights. A place pulsing with luminous, watery beauty, cold and green and wet.

I remember driving through the ring of Kerry with tears streaming down my face – and no idea why I was crying.

I’m a child of Australian skies – huge empty open ones in Western NSW, cavernous great arches of blue cutting across endless plains.

My childhood memories are shaped by that sky, an enormous canvas pierced occasionally by a wheeling wedge tail eagle or distant vapour trails

Land and sky and weather draw up deep emotions in ways we scarcely understand.

In Weathering the Storm, Julie uses this resonance, these echoes to evoke this time of shifting boundaries and uncertainty, of patterns that are now changing shape in an uncertain age.

These strong, abstracted landscapes drenched in colour mirror recent journeys through places and times that are hard to navigate or control.

That’s apt - we use the weather so often as a metaphor in our lives. Storm clouds are gathering, we say. Dark skies ahead, or sunshine, the political weather is clearing.

I think that must be because deep in our ancestral knowledge, we look to the sky for gods, for salvation, for danger, for omens.

The sky has always been where the drama and the intensity played out, whether it’s Zeus throwing lightning bolts or the emu in the sky outlined in the dark parts of the Milky Way.

The repeated shape of the cloud echoes through many of Julie’s works – the thunderhead, that dense dark navy blue cloud, forming from water vapor carried by powerful upward air currents.

You know those clouds and what they bring with them – sparking electricity, uncontrolled and uncontrollable energy, irresistible forces, a reminder that this world is full of power we cannot control, beauty that’s beyond us to corral.

It can be both frightening and thrilling. I looked out the window of our office in Deakin a few days ago towards the Brindabellas and said “here it comes” as a bruised, roiling line of clouds came rolling towards us from the high country like a breaking wave.

And look at these glorious colours Julie uses. Look at these lush greens and glowing oranges, the grey and white lights dancing on a field of sultry, burnished red.

They’re suspended among circles and lines in an abstract sky, where lightning and sunlight and halos of mist are forming and dissolving.

Change is all around us as humans. On the earth’s surface, the soil, we see it steadily happening as the seasons roll through and bring with them changes that are often anticipated – days lengthen or contract, and the sun creeps lower or higher across our windows.

Flowers appear in due time taking perhaps days to open, leaves come – or go - over weeks and months.

But in the sky – up there, it’s fast. There’s no warning. In moments we go from mild sunshine to deluges, from dark to light and back again, just like human emotions.

And with deft confidence Julie uses her tools – the gouaches, the paper, the collages, to shape land and skyscapes that are as much of the interior world of emotions and the imagination.

She shows us what it feels like, not what it looks like, to be in a place. She evokes turmoil and beauty, peace and change, the things we feel as well as what we see, the territory of our minds’ eye as well as our direct vision.

It gives me great pleasure to declare this exhibition open.

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