Graphic Studio Gallery is delighted to present Pressing Matters, a solo exhibition of new work by Jean Bardon
Starts Saturday, 10th of October
The roots of this new collection of prints are in a memorable trip to Japan made in the autumn of 2018. The artist was taken by the beauty of the Autumn trees whose colour intensified each day. Gusts of wind sent bright leaves flying.
‘It brought a new colour palette to my eyes and I gathered leaves and sprigs of familiar and unfamiliar plants as the days went on, pressing them between the pages of a book. Returning home I continued collecting and pressing leaves and ferns and this practice now forms the basis of the new etchings. The focus of the works is to create pattern, rhythm and a certain dynamism by the placement of recurring motifs, sometimes static, sometimes in motion, and through this and the richness of the colours impart something if the essence of my experience to the spectator.’
Delighting in Pressing Matters
‘One morning in mid-September – and amidst covid-19 – I visited Jean Bardon’s garden studio. This pristine white space, filled with light, opens onto her gloriously planted back garden. Jean’s innate neatness, combined with the effects of sunlight and nature, create an enviable sense of tranquillity – and the studio struck me as a calm and neutral foil for the jewel-like quality of her watercolours and finished prints. While the printing itself is done in the Graphic Studio, it is here in her own workspace that Jean carries out all the drawing, preparation and finishing work.
I have known and enjoyed Jean’s work over many years; indeed, her prints have been added at intervals to the walls of both my parents’ and my own home since the 1990s. And so, I was already somewhat familiar with the development of her art, and excited to see her latest achievements.
Gardens and plants have provided Jean with boundless subject matter and, it seems to me that, over time she has sought to gradually particularise the elements of the garden in her work. Individual plants and blooms have found their way into elegant displays in blue and white ceramics, as in the Flora Japonica created for the Chester Beatty exhibition Gardens of Earthly Delight in 2005. Now, as we can see in Pressing Matters, in part prompted by a trip to Japan, her work is increasingly focussed on individual sprigs and leaves, detached and unsupported, in a nod to the ‘floating world’. A Japanese album of autumn leaves on display in a Tokyo museum proved particularly appealing to her; and Jean even carried home a selection of foliage, including the delicate and strikingly coloured gingko and katsura leaves which feature in Pressing Matters, drying them out so she could add them to the varieties she has collected over the years from her own garden and during walks by the coast.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the visit to Japan has made a lasting impression on Jean and on her work. The arts of Asia have long inspired her, and savouring the sounds and textures of nature at first hand could only have led to a stronger appreciation of the respect and care – and elegant attention to detail – that characterise Japanese art.
The resulting work, featured in this exhibition, is a delight to the eye. I have long admired and envied the patience and focus of graphic artists as they navigate the numerous steps from initial concept to final print. Their confidence and skill combined with their artistic ability has always impressed me. Jean’s work demonstrates all of the above qualities and, just to make it more difficult, she has introduced a further element requiring painstaking finesse as it follows the contours of nature – the addition of gold leaf.
Indeed, one of the most noticeable developments in Jean’s work is the extent to which she is using of gold leaf in recent years. She herself talks of the influence of Italian art in this respect, in particular of early Renaissance paintings where gold backgrounds were used to evoke an eternal realm.
The delicate and intricate leaves and blossoms set against a gold background create a contrast of the particular and the non-particular, the specific and the general. Although the gold leaf is the last element executed, so exquisite is Jean’s skill and attention to detail, she succeeds in conveying a sense of the botanical elements sitting proud of – or being overlaid on – the gleaming gold background, lifting the works from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
By adding red watercolour under the gold, Jean echoes the Renaissance masters’ use of red bole. They did it to create a cushion for burnishing the layers of gold leaf and to establish a warm undertone that would show through; Jean too finds this layer of colour adds depth to the gold, and also enjoys the effect of the red peeping through here and there around the edges.
Like her Renaissance forebears, through her use of gold leaf, Jean creates a golden world for the elements she chooses to highlight. She also cites Japanese screens as another influence for this use of gold; and I’m reminded of this both in the overlapping effect created by the sheets of gold leaf, and also in her use of birds and nature as motifs. In so doing she beautifully combines Asian and European inspiration. The titles she has chosen for the works exhibited here – such as Flying Colours; Floating World; Autumn Song; and Now the leaves are falling – repeatedly reflect a sense of lightness and timelessness.
In Solomon’s Seal and butterfly, each of the six panels is devised individually as an integral image. Careful mapping however ensures that, when laid side by side, the individual segments form a complete whole: in effect, miniature two-dimensional Japanese screens.
A striking contrast is provided by the fresh botanical illustration that is Pressed leaves and ferns. The very crispness of the profile of the fern must surely have dissuaded the artist from adding a gold background; regardless, the very simplicity of the background allows the leaves and fern to float and hover effortlessly. And here we find the delightful addition of two seals by the artist, stamped in red, in time-honoured Japanese style.
I must also mention a discreet yet important element that I have so far overlooked, that is the delicate borders evident again in Solomon’s Seal and butterfly and in the Cherry Blossom details. These decorative margins look to yet another source of inspiration for the artist, that of Islamic illumination. It is a natural pathway for an artist who finds intricacy and subtlety irresistible. She has spoken of the ‘soothing’ effect of pattern and repetition. The influence of Persian art comes through in Long tailed bird, Irises and Purple Emperor: although Jean tells me it is directly influenced by old Chinese wall paper – and I wonder with happy anticipation where Jean’s work will take her next.’