Janaki Peart and Bush Tings

On a weekend late in February this year I saw Bush Tings, Janaki Peart’s first solo exhibition. Her paintings, all non-figurative, were gentle and harsh, emotionally soaring one moment and descending in others. Many small and a few large works – twenty-nine, spanning eight years’ work – hung on the white walls of Mount Omei Gallery in Casula, South-West of Sydney. On the back of the recycled roomsheet paper were the artist’s father’s contact details. He was the revered non-figurative painter, the late John Peart.

When I first saw Janaki Peart’s paintings, I felt a rare excitement. I couldn’t recall seeing work by a young painter that felt so certain and authentic.

Bush Tings appeared to be split into three parts. The early works Soundscape, c. 2014, and Golden Repair, c. 2014, part of a group of canvas paintings with savage cuts and stuck onto wooden boards, indicated a different, more vulnerable time in the artist’s life from the collaborative works Noise, 2017, and Chaos and Order, c. 2018 and the later colourful nature paintings Under Sky, and When I Was a Flower, both made in 2023.

The most spiritually absorbing of all the paintings was Noise. Janaki told me it was made with her father after his death, using his canvases, paints, brushes, his studio, and around his unfinished paintings. The surface of Noise was layered with gentle brush strokes free in their direction. The diffused, muted, earthy colours captured in paint the surrounding bush of her Wedderburn studio and home built by her father and where she was born. Noise also seemed to compress the musical narrative that dominated her earlier life. But after her father’s sudden death, Janaki said, as we sat in her studio, “I had to renew my practice, I couldn’t do anything else. Through painting I was able to connect with my father . . . sometimes feeling like they were conversations, it was just him being there with me while I was painting.”

Her collaboration has previously included other artists from within the Wedderburn community: Elisabeth Cummings, David Hawkes, Al Poulet, Fred Braat, and Oliver McKenzie. These artist collaborations are viewed by Janaki as an ongoing experiment in her development as a painter – the social bond of sharing, negotiating, rethinking mistakes, and letting go of control.

Chaos and Order – which she made with McKenzie and Poulet – is a wonderful example of the progression from Noise. Janaki’s colours and brush strokes are interwoven with Poulet’s familiar bold colourful marks, and with McKenzie’s subdued washy colours. Their mix has created a painting that is, ironically, visually louder than Noise.

There’s a familiar sincerity in Janaki’s paintings that recognises – perhaps unconsciously – the flâneur methods that have inspired Poulet’s works, particularly the walking and observing of one’s surroundings.

Her experience of the Wedderburn bush is everywhere in her collaborative and her solo works. An important dynamic of these works is their exploration of infinite space and time. As Janaki’s methods evolve, and she is working more on her own with confidence, I can’t wait to see how her new methods match her remarkable uninhibited nature.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 63

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