Jan Jones

Profile: Janine Mackintosh 
Australian Art Review, September–October 2012
Jan Jones

It is not surprising that South Australian artist Janine Mackintosh travelled to Sydney earlier this year to see the work of Richard Long titled ‘Southern Gravity’ at the Art Gallery of NSW. The younger Mackintosh and Long share a passion for geometric form, recognising the intrinsic value of formalism as pertinent to their process. Just as Long uses cubes and rectangles to frame his mud drawn abstracted vegetation, Mackintosh mostly uses the ancient shape of the circle in which to set and perfectly frame her striking works. While Long’s dedication to walking by foot over and through many countries for five or so decades now, to create his conceptual art by haphazard placement of random pieces of the earth’s crust, such as stones, Mackintosh’s oeuvre relies on much more.

Suspended disbelief draws the viewer instantaneously. Incredulity lies in the fact that the very circular frame that encapsulates her finished work, when put under scrutiny doesn’t exist in itself at all. The frame is not stamped or drawn or etched ready to encompass whatever is dropped into it. Instead each work relies on Mackintosh’s extraordinary eye which results in accentuating the unique characteristics of her chosen medium. Lance shaped leaves radiating out, curved leaves spiraling, twigs and the colour and form of shells, seeds, stones, bark, bone, seagrass and other decaying natural matter are all central to her art practice. Debris of human existence, never far away, is often incorporated as medium, to extend textures and patterns.

Linen thread is used for fine stitching and bookbinder’s gum to hold each piece permanently to the canvas. Mackintosh uses traditional Plant Herbarium techniques to avoid mould forming and to secure permanence. The collecting, the placement, the working out, the patience, the obsession, the understanding and final realisation of perfected beauty are all part of an intimidating process.

Due in part to social, environmental and historical events, modern and contemporary western art can leave a hunger for substance in face of many canvases devoid of very much except a vague thought. Long’s concept in his 1960’s art school days to create “a line made by walking” then photograph it, remains just that, a concept. While concepts can be valuable and Long’s work has been copied and reproduced in varying forms ever since, Mackintosh’s is likely to outlive such an idea. This is due to its intrinsic depth; depth of thought followed by fine assemblage through discerning consideration, while doing her own walking over the earth’s crust wherever she may be. Mostly she will be found in the natural beauty of her living and working environment on magnificent Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Here her passion for the survival of the mallee woodlands is high on her agenda. Mackintosh was told as a child that these woodlands are like a unique bonsai forest, extraordinary survivors relying on low rainfall and nutrients. Imagination, process, awareness, gathering of medium from the earth’s surface including vast sandy beaches; sorting into colour and size, filing, numbering and intense concentration, is all fraught with the possibility of any number of things occurring to upset the final outcome. Large works can take up to two hundred hours to complete once the concept is realised.

Travelling between Kangaroo Island, Adelaide and Broken Hill in 2011, the year the Saatchi exhibition both enthralled and enraged visitors to the Art Gallery of South Australia, Mackintosh’s work could be sighted at the South Australian Museum where she won the People’s Prize for the third time in the prestigious annual Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize, with her work titled ‘The Greater Good’.

At this time her work was also on view in Fine Art Kangaroo Island, Kingscote, while in Broken Hill she had just won the $15,000, 2011 Outback Prize (Acquisitive), held each year at the outstanding Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, for her mesmerizing mixed media titled ‘Droughts and Flooding Rains’. The year culminated in a highly successful solo exhibition at Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide, 25th November – 11th December.

Janine Mackintosh holds a Bachelor of Design – Visual Communication from the University of South Australia, 1988-1991. It is visual communication which has brought her to public interest. Her work cannot be easily passed over; it draws one into it demanding concentration on a number of levels, one of which is often missing in contemporary art today – that of contemplative engagement by the viewer.

Her work seems to fulfill the description of his own by Richard Long when he said: “…my work is a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where my human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world…” But in keeping with the 21st century, Mackintosh’s quest is also to bring to public attention the urgent need for preservation of a special island, by explicating the small and intricate existence of the island’s complex vegetation. Her determination and creative spirit is embedded in the endless pleasure of seeing and walking more than a straight line in order to arrive at a truly beautiful but endangered place.