Michele Connolly

Janine Mackintosh, Above and Beyond
Dr Michele Connolly

Janine Mackintosh’s, Above and Beyond (2010) is a painting that I covet.  It captures my attention immediately.  Walking through a gallery of paintings I would inevitably halt in the presence of this circle that is also a vortex yet at the same time a globe, even a microcosm.  The image satisfies me yet it provokes my appetite, suggesting further satisfactions not guessed at, at first glance.

The shape, securely, perfectly, assertively round, satisfies me.  This painting, stark against whatever is its background, occupies space in a firm departure from the usual painterly square or rectangle.  I must first come to terms with this quietly resolute declaration that here is an entire world that by its projection into space addresses me, challenging me to encounter it and to respond.  The painting is 120 x 120 cm in dimensions: it does not dominate by sheer size but it is big enough to hold its ground.  Even when reduced to one sixth of its size in a catalogue book, it commands an entire page and invites me to contemplate it.  This painting knows it can sustain my gaze.

When I accept the shape, recognizing that I cannot ignore it, I become aware that it is a primal shape.  You can make this shape just by turning yourself around, marking the ground with a stick held steadily in your hand.  The roundel promises to contain everything, in such a way that all fits there, all belongs there properly, nothing is lost.  It is the shape we use to depict our planet but we also express our cosmos to ourselves in this swirling circular movement of multiple, closely interlocked elements. This is a fundamental reason for my sense of satisfaction: this painting is complete.

Yet there is delight as well: within its fullness the circle, so singular and solid, breaks up into multiple other shapes.  These other shapes are so many they almost defy counting.  Yet each is so particular that it draws the eye, wanting to see how each shape fits its neighbours, yet noting that each extends the circle out, giving it more scope, building its substance.  The shapes that make up the circle are recognizably of the same kind yet each shape is utterly distinct from all others.  While in its utter simplicity the circular outer edge of the painting suggests completeness, the individually varied internal shapes suggest infinity.  And so, the painting intimates for us its title, Above and Beyond.

Long before my mind has given up on finding two shapes that are identical and has yielded to the facts of diversity, I spot it that these shapes are leaves.  Are one or two perhaps unusual shapes for leaves, or are they the shapes that regular leaves become under the stresses of life?  Some leaves have holes in them, others have bits chewn or torn off their edges and some look as though they unfurled in a disorderly fashion.  Nevertheless, they are leaves.

These quite fragile things, so easily blown about by the wind, nevertheless locate us and themselves create movement in this painting.  First, they create movement because most of them are longer than they are broad and have pointy ends.  The pointy ends with which the leaves would attach to their twigs all point in the same direction, moving clockwise.  From the large leaves at the outer boundary all these leaves, arranged in ever-decreasing size, spiral in to a central vortex like water going down the plughole.  But the centre holds, it does not disappear.  And so from the centre, movement also radiates out to the edge where the leaves grow larger, row by row, until they are almost like islands in an ocean.  It feels as though we are on the brink of a horizon.  This horizon has a very clear circular delineation, yet it is porous. There is no mistaking the circular shape of the whole image yet many of the leaves which constitute the outer boundary are broken, frayed or curved idiosyncratically; and between all of them there are spaces, there is space.  This space suggests that the boundary is not completely confined and that there is more beyond what is shown here. Thus although the image feels so complete we are invited to transcend the world depicted here and to sense the “above and beyond” of the painting’s title.

Still attending to the movement in the spiral of leaf shapes, when the eye relaxes into the painting I find that threads of colour emerge and lines of leaves cut across the larger movement of the spiral, spinning off the edge, like comet trails.  There is a line of oddly shaped leaves here, curving in a much larger arc than that of the spiral; a concentration of dark leaves there that look like river stones worn to similar shapes in a fast-flowing current; or again, a group of leaves that seem to belong to one twig all blown in one direction by a breeze.  The larger pattern prevails, but across it run many other rills and currents, worlds within this world.  There is endless enticement to contemplation, to going beyond the surface manifestation.

Yet with all this movement I feel that the image locates itself by its colour palette.  The colours, which range from light to quite dark olive green with occasional rust or rose tints, along with the shape of the leaves, suggest the Australian bush.  A whole forest of leaves is assembled here, hinting that the Australian landscape invites those ready to see its colours, to feel its movement and to detect its beautiful particularity in apparent drab greyness, into contemplation.  One leaf is enough but here is an abundance of leaves that accumulate to more than they might seem able to be. At its centre spiraling out like a rose, this assemblage of blown leaves has become a mandala in which one can envisage the cosmos or encounter the divine.

I still covet this painting.  I would like to see how Janine Mackintosh made her circle “just.”  I would like to sense the texture of all of these leaves and, over time, of each one.  I would like to be in its actual presence to discover how much more it might suggest, whether it might forbid or just laugh at what I imagine it says.  Even on a glossy catalogue book page, the painting hints that there is more to it, more to the world it expresses, more to what I can understand and desire to be, than I know yet.  It affirms that there is an “above and beyond”, even if the painting is beyond my grasp.  But I covet it still.

Dr Michele A. Connolly, rsj
25 June 2013