In her 11th show at King Street Gallery, Jenny Sages addresses the magic of memory, and the effect of forgetfulness on the self. The twenty-time Archibald Prize shortlisted artist has a reputation for exploring the deeply personal in her work; After Jack, a self-portrait of grief, won the People’s Choice Award in 2012. The painting was striking and moving, with Sages presented in a moment of helplessness, her loss evident in the fine lines and muted colours of the composition.
‘Lest I Forget’ continues this theme, hinging its approach on the experience of ageing, and the impact on her memory. According to King Street Gallery ‘Jenny is entering a stage in life where she is aware that things are not always as they were – she no longer drives and is a bit more forgetful than she once was. The works reference her forgetfulness in a nice way, and sometimes are humorous too!’
‘Lest I forget’ relies on vulnerability, and this is further reflected in the physicality of the pieces on view, all of which are very small, ‘delicate and subtle’ – connecting to the nature of memory itself as being both intricately detailed and easily damaged. The works will be leant on the walls of the gallery, unframed, enhancing the simplicity and rawness of the exhibition. Furthermore, the artist’s primary medium of encaustic on canvas or boards is a mercurial and fine process that suits this tone. Her pigments have been collected from across the globe, and the process of rubbing them into the wax ground, and then carving, replicates the aesthetic of weaving. As such the pieces have a recurring motif of threads and tangles, in tones of orange and blue, hinting at the way our identities are tangled with our memories, each reliant on the other for continuity of the self.
Known for her portraiture, Sages has otherwise focused on landscapes. ‘Lest I Forget’ will return the focus to the studio, and is more internally driven by the artist’s own reflections on and experiences of memory. Whilst there is still expansiveness to the works, these new works represent inner sanctums, and the fallibility of their powers of recollection.
‘Jenny is one of those rare talents who has succeeded in creating a visual imagery so unique, it will maintain its beauty and elegance forever,’ Randi Linnegar, Co-Director of King Street Gallery said.
The single self-portrait that will be included in the show is distinct from her other self-portraits, in that the image feels removed from the viewer. Rather than being a detailed rendering of personage, with the attention to the intricacies of skin and expression that we’ve seen in the past, this piece is strong in contrasts and less detail-oriented. A silhouette of her shadow spans up from the foot of the canvas, a point of solidity and firmness in a dancing landscape of patterns, a single line marking what seems like a symbolic path from Sage’s head to into the future. The image is arresting in its simplicity, and the pose of the figure, one hand held up at the brow as if peering down this road of multitudes, harks to the notion of memory as something to be found and captured, something elusive and ever-changing.
There is no doubt that Jenny Sages is one of the Australian greats, an artist whose work is constantly evolving, and that already holds an important place in the cannon of Australian art. ‘Lest I Forget’ promises to be another compelling exhibition that seeks to draw viewers into the tenuousness of our most important connections to the world around us – that of past experiences, and the memories they create.
Zoya Patel is a writer and editor based in Canberra.
King Street Gallery on William
9 October to 3 November, 2018