Pattern + Texture – Art of Jessica Birk & Theresa Darmody

Jessica Birk, Fishing, acrylic on canvas board

Jessica Birk, Fishing, acrylic on canvas board courtesy Artist

Pattern + Texture was an exhibition held in Sydney during November that resulted from a ten month residency program at Primrose Park Artist Studio in Sydney.

It was orchestrated by North Sydney Council, who offers low cost shared artist studio space for two artists for a ten month period from February to November. In 2014 they were Jessica Birk and Theresa Darmody.

Artists are able to create within a unique workspace, artistically grow and learn more about their own practice. At the end of their residency they are required to collaboratively exhibit their artworks in the adjoining Primrose Park Gallery.

This experience ensures the artists gain further professional viability coupled with developing their own curatorial skills. In addition exhibiting in the Gallery delivers exposure and the possibility of sales for the artist. This is a fine example of an institution empowering an artist to fulfill their potential.

I have long been an admirer of Jessica Birk’s artwork, which celebrates her Indigenous background and explores colour and pattern. She has also been a dedicated educator and I have been fortunate enough to work with her in an in school program with Willoughby City Council.

Her artworks are narratives exploring the intimate connection between belonging and country. In this exhibition she expressed her personal response to the residency at Primrose Park.

Theresa Darmody, Escape(detail)_handknitted chicken wire_Theresa  Darmody

Theresa Darmody, Escape (detail) handknitted chicken wire, courtesy Artist

She took the viewer on a voyage of discovery that delved into a sense of place through powerful images, vibrant colours expressive patterns and painterly textures.

The Primrose Park Artist Studio is positioned in the scenic setting of the middle harbour foreshore of Sydney and adjoining parklands within the grounds of Primrose Park. The site offers tranquility and a peaceful ambiance wondrously located at Cremorne in Sydney.

On my visit to the exhibition I was fortunate to meet Theresa Darmody and find out personally how the residency had influenced her.

She was thrilled to paint larger works because she was able to work in a roomy studio. She also savoured the ability to move around her work and have the space to put it away and retrieve it later. Ultimately the residency gave her the freedom to explore and develop her skills too.

She added a consequence of working in this beautiful environment was that her artworks were certainly more colourful. The joy of the location was echoed in the sound of the kookaburras and the sensual delights of bush walking.

All this and the pleasure of coffee at a very conveniently situated café made the residency a memorable experience.

Theresa’s artworks originated in knitting small pieces of fabric and then being guided by the visual and textural properties of the textile.

She articulated she was bringing something to her art that had progressed along the female line for centuries.

This female tradition inspired and motivated her artwork. This led me to ponder on the meaning and origin of knitting.

Knitting is the process of using two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected hoops in order to create a finished garment or fabric.

Knitting had its origins in the Middle East and fragments of knitting date back to between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.

In Breathe I had to supress my strong urge to touch the painting as the very tactile essence of the texture, patterns and colours of knitting was so evident and alive. I loved that the horizontal lines of the knitted pattern were uneven.

This evoked the emotional response in me about the very imperfections of human nature, the movements of the hand and the sensual connection of fabric and skin.

Jessica Birk, Middle Harbour shorelines, acrylic on canvas, 6 pieces

Jessica Birk, Middle Harbour shorelines, acrylic on canvas, courtesy Artist

The art processes involved in creating this beautiful work have evolved through Theresa’s experimentation and an appreciation of the skills and wisdom of women over the ages.

Theresa had interpreted the fabric and texture of knitting into an abstract expression of her response to the geometric innately present in the pattern.

In Dust Theresa Darmody had knitted two lace patterns and manoeuvered them as inspiration for the oil on canvas. Painting from the object with her hands revealed the imperfection which was so pleasing to the eye of the viewer.

The uneven nature of the fabric was ethereal and the holes within the pattern filtered light and wisps of grey mauve and mushroom colour particles were scattered on the delicate surface.

One hundred metres of chicken wire had been knitted, knotted and woven to craft the sculptural hanging Escape. Long pieces of wire were left suspended to make a link with the hands.

Theresa Darmody, Escape_handknitted chicken wire_Theresa Darmody

Theresa Darmody, Escape, handknitted chicken wire, courtesy Artist

Jessica Birk, Scarred 1, watercolour on archival paper

Jessica Birk, Scarred 1, watercolour on archival paper, courtesy Artist

I felt this wire sculpture to be a map of female emotions, embodied in the ebb and flow of silver shades the complex tonal loops and the interconnecting swirls of rhythm. I sensed femininity with the soft appearance of the wire belying its solid touch.

In Untitled Theresa painted a large scale view of a very close up stitch pattern. The fragile quality of printing and expressive drawing was artistically combined in this beautifully shaped artwork.

This exquisite image could be pivotal in taking Theresa Darmody on new and exciting creative journeys.

Later I spoke with Jessica Birk about the impact of the residency on her artwork.

She was joyous about being able to create next to the Park and harbour edge. Jessica found the easy access to walks in the bush cleared her mind and reinvigorated her inspiration.

The delight of discovery of seed pods, the flight of birds and the magic of flowers definitely impacted on her creative processes.

Her artistic interpretation of the Middle Harbour shorelines was reminiscent of landforms and layers of existence and time.

The concentric circle patterns bubbled with life.

Fish shapes outlined in white swam and moved through the waters in a lyrical drift. Jessica was finely tuned to the sandy surface that she peppered so expertly with the shades of the earth.

Her masterful use of colour in this six piece artwork and her carefully crafted delineating lines of the foreshore fashioned a work that cemented her appreciation and understanding of the natural environment.

Theresa Darmody, Breathe, oil and acrylic on linen

Theresa Darmody, Breathe, oil and acryllc on linen, courtesy Artist

Fragments of Country was a ten piece painting where the colours of earth and life were stroked across the canvas, images of place and patterns of stones and dots formed a sense of the sacredness of country. Each swish and swirl of every brush stroke eloquently etched her connection to place.

Jessica Birk expertly positions the markings of an ancient paperbark the thin minimalist lines across the surface generated a sense of time and the effects of change in Scarred 1. The velvety earthy tones and vertical lines produced a harmonious composition that softly breathed life and invited introspection.

Gentle ribbons of grey watercolour trickled in a downward pattern in Scarred 11. Shades of brown meandered, subtle markings captured the essence of insect lines or tree sap. I was drawn to both of these works as they suggested the exploration of tree trunk patterns.

Jessica Birk, Fragments of Country, acrylic on canvas, 10 pieces

Jessica Birk, Fragments of Country, acrylic on canvas (10 Pieces), courtesy Artist

The details captured created works of gentle beauty and balance.

Jessica Birk’s extraordinary artworks merge her brush stokes that tell stories about the power of place and belonging with an engaging wonder about the world of nature. Fishing an acrylic on canvas board effervesced with a myriad of colours to form her images of landscape and an ever changing sky above.

The horizontal line of crashing waves separated the world of fish below and birds above. The rhythm of fish below and the flutter of wings above were contrasting styles of painting that successfully fused. I felt the column of white paint created unity in this artwork.

Theresa Darmody and Jessica Birk productively explored and developed their practice in participating in North Sydney Council‘s Primrose Park Studio Program for 2014. The exhibition gave them a venue in which to share their fine artistic achievements and celebrate the successful conclusion of their residency.

Rose Niland, Special Features NSW, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014

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