Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

JENNY BELL ARTIST TALK March 17 Goulburn Regional Art Gallery

I’d like to begin today by thanking Jane –the timeliness of the opportunity  of this exhibition and her  sensitivity and support  have meant a great deal.

I also thank Janenne for facilitating so many of the  nuts and bolts  and also Angela and Michelle .


 “You can’t live your life for art - you must live in such a way that your art emerges from it .”

This simple, but for me profound, insight , by the great S.African  /English writer Doris Lessing  says to me –live first – and if the living accommodates or more likely demands it –the art will emerge.

When I asked for a few clues as to the format of my talk –Jane said she has found people are interested in the process of making work. 

How does it happen?

And so I will begin with a question I have encountered over the last couple of weeks .

How long has it taken to produce these works  ?

A simple question with no easy answer.


Most of the work did not exist in its present form when I committed to do the show in September –so the straightforward answer –as I finished it on Christmas  Eve should be -3 months-but this would be misleading-because of what is hidden mostly below these surfaces – representing  the (sometimes years ) of  forced engagement attempting to reveal the narrative hidden within.


I think it is often assumed that paintings are made when inspiration strikes –and that they proceed logically from beginning to end –but I have little experience of either .You would think it was at least fair to assume that  I set out to do a series of paintings about a shed –but  no - that is not the case .

I set out to engage with life in the only language that gives me access to what I can only call the -the third dimension -and I was lured to the shed by forces I do not understand or control.


Margaret Atwood sums it up pretty well when she says – “In the act of writing or painting we leave our limited corporeal self behind so that another component is free to gain strength and live.”


At least we try . 

And it is  this other self –lost to me now – as I stand here- that

I would like  to channel  ,  and read the few words that shadow these images on the wall .

If they fail to --excuse the pun-- shed any light  for you- on this body of work –I would be happy to take some questions as well as ask some of you .


Those of us who practice image making have to learn that criticism – both good and bad –should be welcomed.

The positive, if deserved, is pleasing and energizing, but the negative is also necessary to   be absorbed and checked out with tomorrow’s work.


(“shedding light” essay)

I fear my explanation is still incomplete –how can we describe this mysterious process?

I would like to try again and  proceed by way of analogy.


Most of us have a go at sport –and as some of my polocrosse  friends are here today –they can testify –that I am an average performer –so what I am about to describe I have only rarely experienced- but at some stage  I feel it happens to most of us – however briefly -when we engage in sport at a fairly competitive level.

We know success on the sporting field is more than the sum of its parts.

Yes you need some natural ability, some training and practice combined with a conquering of fears .

But what is it, in a game that makes us move left before play actually demands it –or to position ourselves  for a catch in the split second before the direction  was obvious –I think they call it being in the zone or the moment.


Heightened intuition, practiced but not predictable-

and if I could convey one thing here today, it would be ,that I think this in some way mirrors the process that I submit to when making a body of work.


By relentlessly going out day after day –uninspired but seeking –doing-observing –not expecting a catch-but nevertheless placing myself ----in a position to receive.

 Knowing that the ball is out there somewhere --and the compounding effect of this activity is that you see things you didn’t see yesterday –you become immersed in a process-so that when the ball does hover you barely see it-unwittingly though –you are in the process of catching it- the ball --and  in this case the shed --becomes starkly demanding of your attention –consuming  you as you describe it --and it is only when the grip is firm-that you come to realize something of what you’ve caught.


And even then, when the seeking and sorting is over and some resolution is reached another layer of “looking” begins – will my conclusion hold the ground they came from?

I received a letter the other day that said “I felt I was looking at a country shed for the very first time –not just seeing –but looking.”

How could I ask for more?

But there will be a different response from  each of us – looking - don’t forget- is an art too.


Cnr Church & Bourke Sts. Goulburn NSW 2580
t 48 234494 | f 48 234456 | e | Follow us: Flickr Facebook Twitter
Open Monday-Friday, 10 am – 5pm Free entry. Saturday 1-4pm

goulburn.art REGIONAL GALLERY is a cultural facility of Goulburn Mulwaree Council and receives support from the New South Wales Government through Arts NSW, M&G NSW.

Gordon Darling FoundationAustralian Government - Visions of Australia