Janet Dawson: Clouds all the way: A bus trip Sydney to Melbourne. Nancy Sever Gallery, Gorman House Arts Centre, 55 Ainslie Ave, Braddon. Closes July 21, Wed - Sun 11am - 5pm.
Many years ago, I was introduced to a Japanese glass artist who made exquisite little boxes "for the storage of dreams". His business card simply read, "Living national treasure."
In some ways I regret that in Australia we lack this level of recognition for our visual artists - the best one could hope for is an Australia Council Award for Visual Arts - that comes with a fistful of dollars and recognition within the trade, but not so much acknowledgement in the broader community.
Janet Dawson is one of our living national treasures.
he is now aged in her early 80s and her biography is one of the most impressive that you will encounter for any living Australian artist.
In the 1950s Dawson was an outstanding student at the National Gallery School in Melbourne and was awarded the prestigious National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship.
In Europe she was awarded the Boise Scholarship for lithography and on return to Australia was one of the highlights in The Field exhibition in 1968.
Subsequently she was awarded the Archibald Prize, she is included in most of the major public art collections and was the subject of a major touring survey exhibition in 2006/7.
Despite this, and being a local (based in Binalong), she has not received the recognition that she deserves. Possibly her gender and not being based in one of the major art capitals has weighed against her.
Her exhibition at the Nancy Sever Gallery is a selection of paintings from the past half-dozen years with little attempt at unity thematically or technically.
Clouds figure in a number of the paintings and Dawson observes in her catalogue note, "My devotion to clouds had an early start. A four-year-old child playing in the garden. Chooks pecking and scratching nearby. I saw, up in the intense blue sky, a huge white shape. It was the exact white image of the big black hen, scratching around by my feet ... Here is a celebration - eighty years of cloud watching."
The Hawk and the Cloud (2014-19) is one such celebration of cloud watching in this largish 120 by 121 centimetre, almost squarish oil and acrylic painting with a beautiful and subtle cloudscape in a huge Australian sky and over a ribbon of landscape. There may be a touch of romanticism and an association with Constable, but it is conveyed with the local palette of Australia. The hawk floating on a wind gust is a tiny speck suspended in the sky, but it anchors the spectator's gaze.
The large Sunshower on the dam (2013) is one of Dawson's Monet-like antipodean images that demonstrates her power as a colourist and as an astute observer of the changing conditions of light.
From a different series and perspective is Dawson's Night Lights 2 (2019) painted with acrylic and oil stick on board. There is an intimacy in this veiled image of domesticity with some absolutely gorgeous passages of paint.
The richness, range and variety are all features of Dawson's art that are combined with a technical sophistication.
She is a master of visual curiosity and has the skill set to translate this into stunning and memorable paintings.