Jacqueline Rose

If the artist is sometimes a magician, Jacqueline Rose’s magic is a balancing act: between improvisation and iteration, meaning and pure marking, fastidiousness and intuition. An upcoming exhibition shows drawings and collages which emerge from Rose’s devotion to paper itself.

In an upper corner of the home in which Rose works, a desk is laden – neatly laden – with the objects of her current study: small, utilisable textile items, largely mono- or dichromatic, with intricate, geometrically patterned bodies. On the opposite wall is a bookcase. The special, slim editions mainly live on the shelves at eye level, while around the knees are the heavy, illustrated art books. I see Matisse, and make a connection to Rose’s practice of collage with paper. When asked about this, Rose recalls video documentation of Matisse creating his cut-outs in the 1940s: he works quickly, conjuring shapes in the air, almost a few steps ahead of thought, and with an absolute decisiveness. With Rose, on the other hand, the collages seem to emerge from the ground of the paper itself. 

A number of Rose’s recent collages “begin” – both chronologically, and in a more archaeological sense, as in at the lower layer – with lines drawn or etched across a piece of paper, edge to edge. These lines, in works like Intervals #3, 2020 (with etching facilitated by John Loane at Viridian Press), and Intervals #4, 2020, are iterative, taking place many times in a single piece. They run in essentially the same direction as each other, but aren’t precisely parallel. They’re time-consuming, elemental work.

These drawn lines are overlaid with strips of paper in parallel and perpendicular forms, like mazes. Sometimes, these strips will really be constructed from many smaller cuts of paper glued together to form a continuous line – the seam all but invisible, and detectable only by close looking at long duration. The action of the overlaid paper strips may at first seem to be all about structure, or stricture: delimiting spaces within the work, and steering the hand and eye (like a masculine, modern god). But feel your way along. Beneath them throbs insistently the hand-drawn line. Rose’s geometry opens the windows (just a crack), letting light in to the paper, and lines out of it.

Other works for Rose’s upcoming exhibition at Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf, Enigmagnetic, were stored at the time of my visit in a large, aluminium cabinet behind her study. This piece of equipment – looking lifted out of a Cold War–period office – held drawer on drawer of drawings, etchings, and collages. Each was wrapped in a protective sheet of waxed paper. Leafing through these sheets, I was reminded of the many roles that paper has played in and after modern times: it has been the artist’s material, the state’s or corporation’s document, a means of creating and circulating information, the matter of the avant-garde little magazine, and the proof of a person’s identity, (self-)possession, and even right of passage. For Rose, paper is a storied material, found in everyday places and often as a leftover, with which she can have an intuitive, long-term, and always haptic relationship.

The texture of her paper, and the way that it holds moveable materials, like ink and crayon, is used to striking effect in Articulated, 2022, with its universal-blue wash of ink and splay of limb-like lines collaged on top. The cyan here is jolting, coldly divine in its total abstraction. Yet, the collaged elements certainly obtain something of the earthly body – in their parallelism, their jointed network of segments (head, thorax, abdomen?), the way their short, hand-like ends seem to gesture, wildly, at the blue. Works with crayon bases, like Text-ile #2, 2021, also position the body at the centre of their operations – this time of frottage. Writing on Rose in 1999, Evelyn Juers saw this: “The erosion of resistance is eros in its truest light.” 

The collaged line in Text-ile #2 grasps at the form of a letter, but lets it slip through the gaps. Similar, smaller forms in Notations #2 and Notations #3, both 2021, are made from the scrap paper left over from hole-punching. As with Howardena Pindell’s use of hole-punches, these collages find openness and ambiguity in the meaning-making instruments of the office – aspiring towards, only to complicate, the status of “text.” 

Like the drawn lines of Intervals #3 and #4, these almost-letters repeat idiosyncratically along the field of the work. The gesture of repetition is both playful and particular. Rose shows me earlier prints where a mouse’s figure is the object of repetition – they’re made in response to Kafka’s short story “Josefine, the Singer, or The Mouse People.” These prints, though less purely “abstract,” seem to contain so many of the ideas which still occupy Rose, and I ask her why she is so interested in the story that they’re based on. She says she is drawn to the idea of a mouse’s artistic voice, and the possibility of its beauty and importance occurring alongside its smallness.   

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 61, 2022. 
Images courtesy the artist.

30 November 2022 – 8 January 2023
Woollahra Gallery at Redleaf, Sydney

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