Jeannie Baker is an acclaimed international author, artist and film maker whose latest breathtaking children’s book, Circle, comes to life in an extraordinary travelling exhibition currently showing till October at the Australian National Maritime Museum Darling Harbour, Sydney before it moves onto the Newcastle Museum and others, ending in 2018. (See below for list & links).
Creator of fourteen children’s picture books including Where the Forest Meets the Sea and Mirror, to read Jeannie Baker’s children’s picture books is immensely rewarding and stimulating. Now to observe her original artworks also evokes awe, stirs the senses and uniquely communicates a language of instinctive beauty.
Jeannie Baker’s distinctly recognisable style permeates her inimitable and expressive collages. Her detailed, profound and gentle illustrations stand compellingly as individual artworks.
The intricate format of her artworks and the lyrical beauty of her text in Circle once again combined to construct a richly layered children’s picture book.
Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lap phonics baueri) are an endangered Australian migratory bird that follows ancient invisible pathways in a journey of epic proportions.
These heroic flights are global, requiring the courageous, resilient and unwavering birds to fly from Alaska to Australia and New Zealand.
This 11,000 kilometre journey is a continuous nine nights and nine days flight and the birds do not stop to rest. The miracle of this natural phenomenon is explored with empathy and reverence in both artworks and text.
Jeannie Baker’s painstaking preparation involved her own travels to observe and learn about these curious birds and their habitats first hand. She visited the remote landscapes of Alaska and the Yellow Sea of China and Korea.
At the exhibition Circle, her working models and notes for the book offer the viewer generous access to her creative processes. She commences her books “with strong feelings and intuition. This begins as little more than scribbles on a smallish sheet of paper.
Initially I work on the book as a whole, drawing lots of oblongs within a sheet of paper and imagining each as a double page spread within the book. As my ideas slowly evolve, the oblong boxes grow larger, until each is eventually the size of a page of the book I am planning to create.”
The front and back double page cover of Circle is built up and her celebrated delicate textual nuances, in this instance foliage and feathers, reveal the painstaking attention to detail that Jeannie Baker appears so effortlessly to create.
The sophistication of her fine motor skills, her resourceful and imaginative use of a diverse range of natural and man-made materials and her creative and visual interpretation of the world is astonishing.
She collects and uses resources including corrugated paper, sponges, wire, silk, silver foil, bark, string, feathers, crushed glass, lace, plaster, roots, dried moss, cracked paint, straw, ink pastels, fabric, seed pods, eggshells, moulding paste, sand, wax and a myriad of other materials.
In layering and building collages of water, sand, coastal vegetation, people, sky and birds Jeannie Baker’s astute aesthetic visual language reflects light, perspective, texture, tone and the complexity and beauty of nature in a style that exudes innovation, fragility and restraint.
Her subtle messages about the environment, the need to respect the importance of the world’s remaining wetlands and the interdependency of nature evolve in a mysteriously tender and wise manifestation.
Her discriminating tonal sensitivity translates into a vibrant spectrum of colours that is central to the artistic quality of her work.
These colours are sharp intuitive and deeply affect the way the viewer responds to her artworks.
The translucent and liquid nature of water is crafted with an expertise that makes the water sparkle like sunlight beams off snow.
She carefully and vigilantly toiled to make this the birds’ story. However, the artwork before the story’s beginning has a boy lying on his bed wishing he could fly. The poignancy of this artwork is heightened by the white background creating the illusion of the bed almost flying.
This finely constructed collage draws the viewer to the boy’s eyes which mirror his imagination and flight fantasy.
His eager optimism erupts from his facial features. The open book about birds lying on his bed, the globe and the computer tablet screen displaying a definition of a godwit sit comfortably on his bedside table and anchor the story within the book.
These visual cues invite both viewer and reader into the boy’s world so tenderly aligned to the godwits and their journeys.
Jeannie Baker captures the rhythm and movement of the birds. The synchronisation of mass flight is observed by the boy from his wheelchair through his binoculars. The graceful flight whispers in their wings and the power of determination drifts in each feather. The ethereal quality of the flocks’ single minded goal is woven in the patterns of extended wings and focused bodies.
Yet the boy has his feet firmly planted on the footrests of his wheel chair and the dichotomy of movement and stillness is beguiling.
Jeannie Baker is acutely discerning in her understanding of tension within her artworks. She skilfully conveys beauty through pairing opposites.
Some of the canvases used for the artworks are curved. This technique is a component of her development of perspective and the aerial views she so deftly crafts.
When “eventually the godwits find a safe stretch of mud” they swirl flittering and swarming unmistakably aware of each other’s space and movement.
Hovering with the city and its pollution in the background and discarded bottle and rubbish scattered on the foreshore the birds formation is a lingering image.
Jeannie Baker’s environmental messages although potent are suggested rather than stated. I believe this approach is relevant, respectful, intelligent and circumspect. “In its lifetime a godwit may fly further than from the Earth to the Moon and back.”
Jeannie Baker has captured this remarkable journey with the integrity, extraordinary imagination, reflective vision and artistic brilliance of an original living legend.
Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Australian National Maritime Museum
19th May – 31 July, 2016
6 August – 6 November 2016
Canberra Museum and Gallery
26 November – 19 February 2016-17
Royal Botanic Gardens of Victoria, Melbourne
15 March – 14 May 2017
Botanic Gardens of South Australia, Adelaide
5 June – 25 August 2017
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
7 September – 26 November 2017
Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, Brisbane
11 December 2017 – 25 February 2018
Bundaberg Art Gallery, Queensland
7 March – 6 May 2018
Images: Courtesy Artist