Image above: Winsome Jobling Listen 2021 handmade papers with ochres and stitching 55 cm x 48 cm
Darwin-based artist Winsome Jobling works primarily with handmade papers and experimental printmaking. She uses many local plants to make her papers, such as Spear Grass, Banyan Fig and the declared weed Gamba Grass.
With her paper forming the ground for her prints, Winsome’s work is a haptic collaboration with the natural world and a response to our impact on it. As she describes, ‘These images meant to at once complement and complicate the ground of handmade paper. The works become an interplay between the method and the message about the nature of the human impact on the world around us.’
In anticipation of Winsome’s first exhibition with Australian Galleries, we discuss her life in the Northern Territory, her artistic engagement with ecological issues and her unique practice of working with hand-made paper.
The images featured throughout depict her local study area of 15 years: six hectares of bushland on the outskirts of Darwin sitting between National Park and the Darwin Speedway. The terrain shifts from savannah forest, into mangrove and into low wet pandanus swamp.
Here, the artist researches, collects dyes, earth pigments, plant fibres and re-seeds and regenerates. The works depict sand palm (Livistona humilis) one of the species used for making dilly bags and baskets and age-old cycads that grow under a canopy of Stringy Bark trees (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). Increasingly this “magical place” has become a place to despair as the invasive weed Gamba grass (Andropogen gayanus) extends further, or another fridge or pile of building material is dumped.
Image above: Winsome Jobling Balance 2021 handmade papers with drypoint and stitching 168 x 90 cm
You have an upcoming exhibition at Australian Galleries, Melbourne. What have you been working on recently, and what can we expect to see in the show?
Recently I have been working on some smaller handmade paper and print works for a September group show in London “Ecologies of Change: Grief and Hope in a Changing World.” The show will coincide with the official naming of the Anthropocene geologic period by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.
The works in the Australian Galleries show are a series of loose handmade paper and print combinations/sketches begun during the last dry season. I regularly explore the patches of bushland surrounding Darwin and record the impact we are having on the plant communities through introduced weeds, fires and clearing. The iconic Top End Sand Palms and Cycads are resilient survivors and are a common motif in my work.
Next I want to look at current intergalactic explorations taking place and the intention of plundering new worlds.In 1982 you relocated to Darwin after having grown up in Oberon and Sydney. What is life like as an artist living in the Northern Territory?
I love the laid-back relationships with other local artists and the closeness to Aboriginal art and culture. The feeling of being closer to the rest of the world and the opportunities that come from being part of a smaller ‘pool.’
I have been able to work in amazing places with great people such as; an eight week residency in West Timor teaching papermaking, a month in the Philippines as well as being part of projects with Aboriginal artists; spinifex paper workshops across the Barkly, Replant – cross cultural botanics and specific paper commissions for Aboriginal artists.Throughout your career you have been drawn to engaging with the natural environment – in a political, social and physical sense. Can you speak to the ways in which these ecological issues continue to inform your artistic practice?
I have sourced and harvested plants from across the Northern Territory and keep detailed records and samples for each. I also grind ochres from across the NT to use in the papers as well as charcoal from bushfires.
In a way the ground becomes my ground. The substrate I work on is made from my country/environment so the concepts become literally embedded in the artworks.
It becomes a complicated interplay between the method and the message about the nature of human impact on the world around us.
Often when transforming these natural materials into tactile images I may choose something specific to add another layer of meaning, such as hemp mooring rope to make the chin colle sail for Marrnyula Mununggurr’s print Bawa.
I like to think that my work reflects Indigenous cultural and natural heritage through a philosophy of sustainability and respect.What other inspirations do you draw from in your practice?
The most powerful piece of paper I have held was a petition to the US Government to stop using land-mines. A note at the bottom explained that the paper was made from the clothes of land-mine victims. I dropped it instantly!
My papermaking always challenges the medium and I love inventing new ways to add layers of imagery and meaning into the paper that is integral to the process. I am part of a very active group of International papermakers and continue to expand my knowledge through residencies.
I love to experiment and am constantly playing with materials in new ways. At present I’m using recycled photocopy toner to draw dead birds.
The printing techniques I use are similarly inventive using solvents, sand blasting and engravers on plastic plates to build a library of re-used images to develop a continuous story.
Image above: Winsome Jobling Porous 2021 handmade papers with drypoint and stitching 58 x 55 cmIt was while working at Belyuen that you first experimented with making paper from plant fibres and working with natural dye. Can you briefly discuss your experience in this community and how it influenced the development of your practice?
My time at Belyuen was life changing and I am so grateful to the community and the women especially, for their friendship, teaching and generosity. They instilled in me a deep respect for the natural world and the interconnectedness and balances within it.
At Belyuen I started experimenting with plant fibre papermaking with little real knowledge of the process. The women were teaching me basket and dilly bag making as well as the local botany. The first papers I made were from sedge and sisal, dyed with natural purple and yellow and the outcome was fairly rough. I persisted in experimenting with lots of plants using the knowledge shared by the women.How does using your own hand-made paper affect the visual qualities of your work? And what kind of natural materials do you work with most often?
The process of sourcing and making my raw materials to start with sets the tone for the ensuing body of work. The same plant can produce different results depending on its growing conditions so the forces that act upon and within the environment have to be considered. My bio-cultural knowledge of the Darwin ecosystem continues to grow in accordance with the ebbs and flows of the seasons and the plants each season yields. I have extensive records and samples of papers made from about 70 different plants.
Gamba Grass is a favourite as it is a declared noxious weed and makes beautiful paper. This African grass introduced as a cattle fodder is now a threat to native habitats, firstly by overpowering native grasses and secondly by creating a massive fuel load that feeds very hot fires up into the bush canopy.
I also use Abaca a lot, a non-fruiting banana fibre from the Philippines as it is strong, stable and takes colour well.
Image above: Winsome Jobling Equilibrium 2021 handmade papers with ochres, dryoint and stitching 43 x 50 cm
Winsome Jobling’s upcoming exhibition opens on Tuesday 11 May at Australian Galleries, Melbourne. Winsome will be presenting an artist talk in the gallery from 2 – 4pm on Saturday 15 May. For more information, click here.