Maggie Jeffries

In her debut solo exhibition at Hobart's Despard Gallery, Maggie Jeffries plumbs the pools of emotion that are expressed in the more-than-human world.

In Maggie Jeffries’s True Blue, 2020, a pair of eucalyptus branches reach toward each other. Across the canvas, these impossibly emotive plants seem to gesture with high feeling; they are so close to touching one another. The field they reach across is dappled blue – dense and saturated in its colour. Jeffries’s plants are not still life studies in deathliness and liveliness, and nor are they straightforward botanical illustrations. They are high-artifice, and affectively amped-up. They ooze all the self-knowing feeling of melodrama, and the punches and turns of kitsch. Text for the exhibition does indeed confirm that Jeffries is interested in the connection between plants and affective life, especially nostalgia, and that she works from sites of personal significance, collaging multiple images together in her paintings in order to depict memories, as much as botanical specimens. 

Many paintings in this show are named after, for, or with women. There is Vanessa, Barbie’s Garden, and For Lily – Dancing Bears. In their saturation, and their alignment with the realm of emotion and gesture – their demonstrativeness – these paintings ask us to engage with ideas of (hyper)femininity with both criticality and fondness. What makes these paintings look like it’s right that they’re named for women? Should looking at flowers through this gendered lens feel comfortable, or not? Does this have something to do with the exhibition’s titular pearls?  

A series of darker botanical images, as well as landscapes, comprise the “King Island” sequence of works. Undertaken on forty-three consecutive days during a six-week artist residency on King Island, the works track Jeffries’s shifting relationship with the island. They often make use of sea water, sand, and soil, alongside the more conventional media of oil, acrylic, and charcoal. Here, too, is an investigation of what it is to be attached to the more-than-human world, and what it is to find or make oneself a place there.

Taken together, these bodies of work create an exhibition which is at once nostalgic and clear-eyed, revelling in innocence from the vantage point of knowledge. 

Maggie Jeffries: All the Pearls
20 October – 13 November 2021
Despard Gallery, Hobart

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