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On place and experience

Updated: Apr 9, 2022

Bonnie-Jean Whitlock. The long line

Acrylic and house paint on cotton . 170cm x 125cm

If I had to choose one word to describe my relationship with home it would be LAYERED.

In my experience, the more complex the subject for a painting is, the more abstract the piece becomes. If I'm using painting and drawing as my medium and I restricted myself to being an image maker, and pictures tend to land somewhere along a flat, sliding scale from naturalism to pure abstraction.

I started thinking about how I can embed content into my paintings without painting it into the picture.

When I think about home I think about the trees and the scrap metal. Masses of candle-bark, motorbike parts and rusty wrecks of milling machinery sunken into the scrubby bush, oil slicks on the mud, the eerie quiet mornings when as soon as you open your eyes you know it's snowed. The smell of lanolin, pot, last nights fire... cicadas, magpies, and colours like mustard, slate and sage.... and all of those things are wonderful. They're the things I long for when I've been cooped up in my suburban rental house for too long. When the lockdown is extended again. But when I think about my body within the place I'm met with prickling anxiety. Remembering the feeling of the bus driver's sharp eyes on the back of my thighs, wondering if my school skirt must be completely transparent. I think about the woman who lived next door to me who was shot by her boyfriend and knowing that she had called for help 3 hours earlier and the police had blamed the isolated location on their lacklustre response. I remember that my dog was shot on the neighbouring property to that. I think about the car accidents, the alcoholics, the sex offenders, the flyblown sheep and their dead lambs and I wonder what it will feel like next time my girlfriend and I pop into the shop to get milk.

There are many things I wish that I could take or leave from home, but home is what it is and comes with all the rusty edges as many small Australian country towns do. There is so much more to make work about than the physical qualities of home and I wanted to respond to my body soul within the place, the place as it is inside me and not necessarily what it is on the outside. Our experience of a place can never be the place as it is physically, it comes into us tailored to us and unique.

One of the most useful aspects of the course was to tease out my methodology. I began to open up my linear thinking about painting and consider my mediums as more than a means to an end. I thought that by returning to a method of painting that I used as a young teen I could psychologically locate myself back home, so I started painting on cotton bedsheets and using watered down acrylic and industrial paints. A technique I used out of necessity back then, and being my first independent explorations into painting I developed an understanding of how blending, colour and different thicknesses worked based on those materials. Since returning to painting on cotton half way through this semester I have continued in this way for the remainder of the year. For how long I continue with this method is unclear to me but for now it is providing me with ways to tap into memory without needing to say it overtly through the imagery. It's like a private moment with my past self and interestingly when I am using imagery unrelated to home and using this technique I am feeling satisfied that I'm acknowledging my lenses and am content with leaving things unsaid in the imagery because they have been embedded into the process.

The following images are the resolved body of work made for this project.

I used cotton bedsheets stained with acrylic paint and painted over sections with white house paint. Photographs sent to me by my mum are then projected over the paintings and and then traced around with conte, they are then painted back into with acrylic washes. This method distorts and removes information from the original photographs and leaves a ghost. I wanted to convey that I was addressing memory and experience.

Bonnie-jean Whitlock. Burrier 2021

Acrylic, house paint and conte on cotton

78cm x 65cm

Bonnie-jean Whitlock. Imaginer/Imagine her. 2021

Acrylic, house paint and conte on cotton

78cm x 65cm

Bonnie-jean Whitlock. Small thing. 2021

Acrylic, house paint and conte on cotton

78cm x 65cm

Bonnie-jean Whitlock. Forgetter / forget her. 2021

Acrylic, house paint and conte on cotton

122cm x 65cm

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