Janenne Eaton: Reef. Nancy Sever Gallery, 4/6 Kennedy Street, Kingston. Until October 25.
With the closure of the Helen Maxwell Gallery in 2009, Canberra largely lost sight of Janenne Eaton's work, an artist who had been a regular in the Canberra art scene. In the 1980s she taught at the Canberra School of Art for more than a decade and then went on to teach at the Victorian College of the Arts for another couple of decades. Now she has returned with a major new show at the Nancy Sever Gallery.
In some ways it is difficult to characterise Eaton's art. It is tough, cerebral and prickly. Immaculate in its surfaces, intricate and painstakingly exact in its execution and, despite all of its associations with new technologies, also quite human and somewhat subversive. There is a tension created between the optic effects of the mirrors, patterns, painted bullet holes, the bight neon range of colours and the modernist grid that disciplines and binds the surface together.
A very attractive small painting is Beautiful fragrant eucalypts, 2015, executed in shiny enamels and in a style which could be described as a white person's geometric dot painting. The title of the work is superimposed in white dots to give the surface an active kinetic quality and there is a play with sharp focus and soft focus elements that enhances the dynamism of the surface.
A land of multiple horizons, 2014, is a large enamel canvas where many of the elements of her art making have been brought together. There is a mesmerising complexity of dots, arranged in several layers, which in the catalogue note is described as a "visual static that permeates contemporary culture". It appears like a highly patterned surface, somewhat mechanical and bursting at its seams. Superimposed on this is lettering which may be deciphered as a somewhat enigmatic inscription "No where's ville". It is this constantly pulsating surface and mixture of cerebral and lyrical elements that runs throughout the exhibition.
I think of Eaton as a modern-day archaeologist who collects data on how we live together in tight urban units and communicate through modern technologies and the power structures that this establishes. Although at first glance her art is cool and detached, below the surface lurks a subversive humour as well as a slightly alarmist and questioning intellect that is trying to make sense of all that is observed. I am reminded of a famous aphorism of French philosopher Michel Foucault when he wrote, "I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced ... my entire research rests upon the postulate of an absolute optimism. I do not undertake my analyses to say: look how things are, you are all trapped."
In Eaton's canvases we appear trapped, but also capable of finding a way out.