Image above: Jennifer Keeler-Milne Corymbia 2021 charcoal on linen (prepared with acrylic) 77 x 57 cm
By Artist Profile
In a new exhibition at Australian Galleries, Sydney, Keeler-Milne figures the universal – indeed, interspecies – experiences of cyclical change through closely observed and powerfully felt botanical paintings and drawings.
In Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s Autumn Leaf IV, 2020-21, a single lace-like leaf casts a shadow down the blank field of picture space through which it falls. Keeler-Milne’s ‘Autumn Leaf’ series pictures intricately-drawn leaves falling between one state of being and another: between fullness and emptiness, liveliness and silence, growth and decay. These illustrations were taken from leaves that Keeler-Milne had spent the winter of Sydney’s Covid-19 lockdown collecting and observing, as she made her regular walk between her home in Glebe and her Newtown studio. Though they work in this way as registers of that period in Keeler-Milne’s, and the country’s – history, they also emerge from her decades-long practice of botanical drawings. They have clear precedent, for example, in her ‘NSW Desert Plants’ series, 2011: a sequence of charcoal drawings taken while on travels North-West of Broken Hill, and collected by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Keeler-Milne has noted that her recent Autumn leaf drawings seek to register the universal in the particular. That is, they use the form of the decaying leaf, meticulously observed and tenderly registered, to picture the sensations of loss, decay, quietness, and downturn which accompanied the Covid-19 lockdown(s) for many. One of Keeler-Milne’s most original contributions to our thinking about this pandemic has, thus, been her likening of the lockdown to a kind of social wintering. These drawings challenge us to consider how periods of isolation, inactivity, and quietness might be thought of not so much as aberrations, but as part and parcel of our life on this planet, with its cycles of abundance and decay, life and death.
A suite of paintings, more brightly coloured and often focusing on wattle, accompanies these pensive drawings in Keeler-Milne’s show with Australian Galleries, ‘Autumn & Spring.’ These works, more colourific, tactile, and expressive, capture an exuberance befitting the springtime in which they were painted – emerging from our initial lockdowns, feeling the optimism of the weather, witnessing flora and fauna bounce back after a Summer of fires and a Winter of frost and rain. These paintings delight in the warm yellow of wattle, and have been recognised for their expressive capacity with inclusion in the 2021 iterations of the Wynne Prize Salon des Refusees and the Dobell Drawing prize finalists’ exhibition.
Keeler-Milne has a teaching practice alongside her artmaking, both with her own drawing school Dare to Draw, and as a former museum educator with the Art Gallery of New South Wales and lecturer with Sydney University, the National Art School, and the University of Technology, Sydney. In ‘Autumn & Spring,’ Keeler-Milne’s practices come together. These works are at once detailed, virtuoso studies in painting and drawing, and lessons on weathering – and celebrating – the seasons of our lives as individuals, and together.
Autumn & Spring
22 June – 11 July 2021
Australian Galleries, Sydney