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Jo Darbyshire: Off to Imaginary Places

Dreaming Underwater #4 by Jo Darbyshire

Jo Darbyshire talked to OUTinPerth’s Zoe Carter about her upcoming residency in Canada and the inspiration behind her paintings.

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ON HER RESIDENCY:

‘I’ve been lucky enough to be selected for an international residency which is going to be held at the Bamf Centre for the Arts in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada. I’ll be going there in May for 6-8 weeks.

‘The theme of that residency is called ‘Imaginary Places’. My work has been about underwater worlds as well as the local history, ecological histories, and social histories that have a bearing on those worlds. That’s what they are looking at in this residency. They have chosen 32 artists from all around the world to work in a variety of mediums, but all of them have that theme of Imaginary Places. So, it will be interesting to see how my work interacts with that conversation.

‘We are all there for the same 8 weeks so it will be a networking opportunity as well. They provide you with a studio. You provide your own materials, but you have this amazing work environment where you are supported to work and really get to know people. It is sort of a skills and arts development opportunity.

‘Bamf Centre for the Arts is one of the most amazing places in the world because it is set up for all kinds of arts and is supported by the Canadian government. We don’t have anything like it in Australia, though I do have my airfare and some of my scholoarship costs funded by the Australia Council from the Visual Arts and Crafts Board.

‘I’m going to make a series of paintings that explore the water bodies they have in the Rocky Mountains. They are three lakes in particular: Lake Louise, which is quite famous, Vermilion Lake, and Consolation Lake. It is going to be interesting for me to explore those bodies of water because they are being fed by snow in an alpine environment. I’ve never been in that kind of environment before. I’ve never lived in any mountains. I have no idea what is going to come out of that experience.

‘I’ll be looking at colour. What makes a red lake? I’ll be doing research on the ecology of the whole system and talking to people about what it is like to live there. I’ll be there in summer, so it is a particular set of conditions. When I went to New Zealand I was really struck by the colour of the water. I had never seen that colour before. So, I imagine that I’ll be seeing new colours. I will be trying to record them and explore that scenery to see how my ways of working interact with that place. It may be a total disaster. It is a risk, and I’m looking forward to challenging myself. It is probably the complete opposite place on earth to Perth.

‘It [8 weeks] is not really long, but I don’t have to do any other work. It is an every day process. That is just a fantastic way to work. After Bamf, I am going to Toronto for a week, and then I’m going to New York to live for 2 months. Once again, it is kind of a skills and development opportunity. I have the opportunity to volunteer for a company called Blue Medium, a marketing and events management firm. They work a lot with contemporary art fairs and exhibitions. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but whatever it is it will be great. I’m also going to have a look at the amazing galleries and museums in New York because I’ve never been there.’

ON NINGALOO REEF

‘That work [her recent series on Ningaloo Reef] is really a series of painting on floating over Ningaloo Reef, which I did two years ago. It is an extraordinary feeling floating over that environment and being immersed in it. The paintings aren’t illustrations of the reef; they are more about the bodily experience of floating over dark areas and then light areas. My aim was to get a sense of desire and beauty and apprehension, you know, a little bit of fear. You are immersed in the unknown.

‘What is under the water? What is submerged in our subconscious as well? I think in the past before 2000, my work was really about identity on a personal, sexual level as a white West Australian. Since 2000 it has been more poetic, abstract and symbolic and much more adventurous in the way I use paint.

‘The painting that won the Bank West prize was a big painting about a boat in 1853 and the young boys that were the sailors. Eleven of them managed to swim across the reef to the shore on a full moon that lit up the phosphorescence. Whereas I love the story, that particular vision of them trying to swim to safety across the reef is what stuck with me. So it [the painting] doesn’t describe the situation, it just gives the feeling of terror and beauty, hope and loss.

The Swan River has many stories; there are so many markers and buoys, but Ningaloo is really very interesting because it is mysterious. The aboriginal people who live up there mysteriously disappeared, whether by a tsunami or sickness no one knows. There are lots of shipwrecks that happened along that coast.’

ON HER METHOD

‘The water I’m going to now isn’t even connected to an ocean and I don’t know if I’ll be able to go in it or under it. I’m sure that there are stories there too. There are with any body of water, it is a symbol, a magnet to people. I’m looking forward to hearing some of those. I’ll just wait until one grabs my imagination.

‘I look at the world as a series of layers and they all fit together. I don’t really have a sense of boundary. When I paint, I paint in layers. I think in layers and that requires transparent paint. So, I am creating layers that I’ll then cover with another layer so there is a multi dimensionality to what you perceive in the painting. Often I’ll finish with a very flat mark that marks the surface of the painting so that you have that sense of going back in space in depth. That is the illusion of a painting, looking at this flat surface. What world can you create within that canvas? It is just a two dimensional surface. That’s how people look at their lives too. They just look at the surface, but if you look underneath it is an amazingly complex, intertwined world that we live in.

‘I do love other mediums, but after 25 years of painting, the paint is something that I can work with. When I was younger I was more about the message I was getting across, but now I let the paint do the talking. I enjoy the surprises and the mistakes. It just gets richer and richer.’

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