Arts & Culture

Powerful paintings and pots emerge from the summer of fire and fury

Alex Rea 13 March 2020

Burn-off Day, painting by Jane Ahlquist. Photo: Supplied

‘Angels and Waratahs’ is a new exhibition opening at The Hive Queanbeyan on Saturday 14 March.

The joint exhibition presents paintings by Major’s Creek artist Jane Ahlquist alongside the earthy ceramics by Queanbeyan’s Galia Shy.

The show responds to the torment of the natural environment through the tempestuous summer of bushfires and the nurture of the bush as new growth returns.

Jane Ahlquist lives just outside Majors Creek surrounded by forest and many animal friends.

Ahlquist was educated in drama and philosophy at Flinders University and worked as a performing artist and theatre director for 35 years, while painting for pleasure. Twenty years ago, she began to exhibit in art shows and has now abandoned her theatre practice to concentrate on painting.

Plumwood Waratah

Plumwood Waratah painting by Jane Ahlquist. Photo Supplied.

Painting for pleasure, Ahlquist took classes in iconography and life drawing and began to receive commissions from friends.

Ahlquist’s evocative works tell of the mysterious healing magic of bush witches and angels and the enchantments of landscape.

Ahlquist says “The little waratah canvases commenced when I learned of the powerful history of this flower in both Aboriginal and early settler lore.

The climate of southern NSW is suitable for every kind of waratah: the heart leaps when one sees a waratah in the bush. Indigenous people identified the waratah as one of three powerful remedies – targeting “spiritual disorders”.

“I set about visiting Plumwood Mountain near Braidwood and recording the waratahs so beautifully grown there by the late Val Plumwood. These form the basis of the paintings that feature waratahs, as portraits and as symbols” she says.

Bush Witch on Windy Day

Bush Witch on Windy Day, painting by Jane Ahlquist. Photo: Supplied.

“During this inferno of a Summer, all of Val’s waratahs burned, so I guess I am a custodian of past images for now” says Ahlquist.

“The other cross-over themes of this exhibition arose, initially, from my observation of older women gardening in the district who appear to be magical custodians of ground. Reflecting on these women led to a desire for a visual mythology protective of nature and containing an imminent, powerful feminine spirit, rather than the distant masculinized form from which we have been alienated.”

Ahlquist says “it is my strong belief that if we had maintained the knowledge of Mother Earth as a place of wonder, with ourselves as custodians in dialogue with Her, much of the current tragedy would have been avoided.”

Ceramic by Galia Shy

Ceramic by Galia Shy and Paintings By Jane Ahlquist in Angels and Waratahs at The Hive. Photo: Supplied.

Alongside the paintings, Galia Shy’s soda fired ceramics are a grounding reminder of the impact of fire in the landscape. In this show her ceramic skills shine through with a selection of exquisitely strong pieces using clay and ash. Shy is also known in the Canberra region for her works in stained glass.

Shy says “My affair with arts started about 20 year ago, during my Ph.D studies when my therapist recommended it as a way to release stress and control my anxiety levels. I have started with drawing, continued with painting, adopted glass as a material of choice for a few years and I have enjoyed it all. However when I came across clay, a few years ago, it was clear that I have found my home.”

“As a scientist at heart I was extremely happy to find that working with clay is a grand playground for experiments. Clay lets one feel like you have control over it but it never really gives itself completely. And I love its independence.”

“Some of the creations in this exhibition are made by mixing different colour clays to create a jigsaw affect” says Shy. “They are then wood fired, unglazed. The result is earthy, warm and untamed.

Some are Raku – which is a technique where the pots are pulled out of the kiln at 700c and treated with organic material that burns and leaves its mark like hair, feathers or leaves. Also spraying salts on hot ceramic results in earthy colours.”

Shy also uses coloured slips (liquid clay) on white clay to create bright and colourful pieces, which are in complete contrast to the rest of the work.

“Angels and Waratahs” opens Saturday 14 March and closes Sunday 29 March 2020. Gallery is open 10 am – 4 pm Thursday – Sunday and 10 am – 9 pm Fridays. The Queanbeyan Hive, 274 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan.

About the Hive: The Queanbeyan Hive is an emerging community cultural hub set in a beautifully restored yellow Heritage cottage in the heart of Queanbeyan. The Hive offers many things: art gallery, gift shop, meeting rooms, function centre, live music, workshops, performance poetry platform and theatre spaces. The Hive’s first art show was in October 2018.

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