11 June 2024

Majors Creek artist draws on her family of inspiring women to land art prize

| Sally Hopman
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Woman with young girl in front of painting

Majors Creek artist Jo Parsons with her daughter Indigo, 8, in front of her prize-winning painting, The Language of Women. Photo: Supplied.

Jo Parsons reckons she’s a lucky woman. Despite doing it tough for most of her life, the mother of Indigo, 8, has always had her art to revive and restore her – and that passion has just secured her top prize in the 2024 Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council and Bendigo Bank Art Awards for 2024.

She won the Major Acquisitive Award for her work, The Language of Women.

On winning the award she said: “Receiving this award serves as validation of the countless hours of dedication and growth I’ve poured into my craft. I am truly humbled by this recognition and immensely grateful for the opportunity to continue pursuing my passion with renewed vigour.”

Jo said creation of The Language of Women came straight from her heart. “I have been fortunate to always be surrounded by amazing, accomplished, thoughtful women,” she said.

“They are women who have become my chosen family,” she said, “and these women were my inspiration for this work. It is about celebrating them as an amazing support in my life and they’ve taught me that if you surround yourself with strong women, you can be that same kind of woman in return.”

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Jo, who lives at Majors Creek near Braidwood, worked as a teacher for many years before concentrating on her art.

But it was a struggle. “In the 90s,” she said, “it was not OK to have a girlfriend if you were a girl.

“When I came out to my mother she told me not to tell my father … it’s been a painful journey for these past 30 years. That’s why painting is so important for me. It comes from a real place of rejuvenation, joy and celebration.

“All my life, as a woman, I was told to be quiet.”

But Jo was having none of it. Two years ago, she decided to build a house – with some help – for herself and her daughter.

“My head got so busy working on the house that I needed to decompress – and that’s when I started doing my art again, and now I can’t stop,” she said.

“For me, being in front of an easel is like meditation. When things weigh heavily on you it can be a positive place to think.”

The artist created the prize-winning work earlier this year. She had been selling her work at local markets but a couple of months ago, decided to bite the bullet and open a small gallery in Braidwood. Today, her Gallery 103, in Wallace Street, sells local works by other local artists as well, from jewellery to books, artworks and other handmade pieces.

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She has also established it as a gallery meeting space for other local artists.

“I had spent a lot of time thinking about and working on this work,” Jo said, referring to The Language of Women. “It took a lot of time to work out which direction I was going to take it.

“But when I finished it, I put an obnoxious price on it – I needed to pay the rent on my shop.

“This woman came in and she looked at it for a while and then said she wanted to buy it. I said no because I had decided it was going to be my entry in the competition.

“There was something about it then that I knew I couldn’t let it go.”

Woman with colourful model

Gail Neuss won the First Nations Award at the Queanbeyan-Palerang art competition for her work, The Killing Fields. Photo: Supplied.

Winners included:

  • Major Acquisitive Award – Jo Parsons for The Language of Women
  • 3D Art Award – Robert Schwartz for Spectral Echoes
  • First Nations Award – Gail Neuss for The Killing Fields
  • Emerging Artist Award – Bridget MacLeod for Affordable Housing
  • Bendigo Pick Award – Melanie Lenaghan for Cancer.

President of Southern Tableland Arts, Louise Wakefield, and CEO of the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Caroline Downer, judged the awards in a ‘blind’ format – they did not know the name, gender, location, or value of the artists’ work.

The artworks, including The Language of Women, are now on display at the Q Theatre, Queanbeyan and will be available for sale after the exhibition ends on 15 June.

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