The delicate beauty of cherry blossoms, clouds shifting in the sky, the quiet mass of the landscape - each holds a fascination for Jennifer Keeler-Milne. Transitory, changeable, eternal yet fragile, these simple subjects from nature lie at the core of her art. Through them she seeks to capture the essence of beauty, to express the briefest of moments when things that are best comprehended in the shifting terms of sensation or emotion, become clear.
Keeler-Milne has devoted the past year exclusively to drawing. Using the sparest of materials – charcoal, heavy Arches watercolour paper and a knead-able rubber - she has produced a remarkably cohesive group of drawings that seek to capture the fundamental nature of beauty. In the way a portrait seeks to reveal something of the personality inside, Jennifer Keeler Milne’s drawings are concerned with securing a moment beyond the subject, something deeper than the surface.
For this series, Keeler-Milne does not work directly from nature. It is in the act of drawing itself that the images are developed and nurtured towards completion, a meditative and reflective process that enables her to engage in a nuanced exploration of her key concerns without preconception of the final image. She begins each drawing with intuitive markings on the paper, slowly allowing an image to form. Using her sense of touch, the resistance of the textured paper can be felt through the stick of charcoal, as the image emerges from the surface in response to the competing pressures of the paper and hand. In allowing the texture to create mass and volume of form, the drawing process becomes a reversal of dissolving, and the intangible becomes concrete through the medium itself.
Formal invention and the arrangement of pictorial elements are critical to these drawings, and each composition is carefully considered. Stripping the subjects of colour is imperative to remove all preconceived associations and rid the works of cliché. While a branch of pink blossom juxtaposed against a clear blue sky seen from her studio window in Paris was the first inspiration for the blossom drawings, their classically ‘pretty’, rococo pink and blue palette was something she wished to avoid. The minimal black and white of the drawings forces the viewer to re-engage with the subject, to see in it something subjective and new.
Scale is also central to Keeler-Milne’s work. The drawings range from intimate pieces to much larger drawings that are constricted in size only by practical considerations, such as the availability of suitable paper. The variation of scale is calculated for effect – the larger works envelop the viewer while the smaller drawings concentrate vision and force a closer focus on the work. Thus a variety of experience and interpretation is made possible.
Jennifer Keeler-Milne’s drawings of clouds, landscapes and blossoms are evocations of mood, sensation and memory, brought to light with great sensitivity and insight, and are among the best of her work.
Assistant Curator, Australian Prints, Drawings & Watercolours
Art Gallery of New South Wales