Pure Painting – Skye Jefferys

Painting – and/or painters – may be one of my all time favourite things to write about, and it’s a medium that I carry on about a great deal on this blog. Skye Jefferys is a painter’s painter, and one that Canberra has recently had the fortune to adopt. Last month I had the pleasure of preparing an accompanying text for her forthcoming exhibition Upwelling at Canberra Contemporary Art Space. If painting is as much your thing as it is mine, then I have to insist you check out the show: August 29 – September 8 at CCAS Manuka.

Skye’s work was also featured last week over on The Design Files, along with some beautiful studio shots. Take a look! If that doesn’t make you want to paint then I don’t know what will.

Skye Jefferys' work photographed by Peta Rudd, as seen on The Design Files.
Skye Jefferys’ work photographed by Peta Rudd, as seen on The Design Files.

In 2012 Skye Jefferys arrived in Canberra, began a new phase of life and a new body of work. Colour breaking new territory onto clean canvas, crowding and layering until there’s no space in sight.

These vivid paintings are tumultuous – perhaps joyful, perhaps chaotic, or caught in a dance that swings between the two. Saturated and robust with paint the works would seem dense but for a gestural dynamism that defies the ground and implies a feathered, shimmering lightness. Representation isn’t missed and can’t be found, despite the occasional unfurling of a line that teases with suggestion of form. Instead it reveals the quiet pleasure of mark-making – the sumptuousness of paint under brush; The tremble and slip, the meandering, wandering stroke, thick impasto or rivulets, flurries and pools. Pure painting, straight up.

Why does one begin to paint? And once you have, where do you stop?

Jefferys’ paintings tumble forth in a state of perpetuity where each is the catalyst for another – one painting leading into the next and each the product of everything before it. If art were bread then here colour acts like a sourdough starter – dough from one loaf being instrumental to the creation of the next and so on forwards, loaves sharing their most vital components over years, decades or even centuries in a chain that must be carefully maintained.

Likewise these paintings have common ingredients and share their makeup. A colour from one canvas is transitioned to the next before the first work is complete. Two or three paintings are created side by side at any one time. The palette persists through a year and longer, through a whole body of work and continues to evolve. Scale and mark making remain familiar and constant – we become accustomed to Jefferys’ language, though no words reveal the deeply personal subject.

That’s not to suggest there are secrets here, there aren’t, rather the paintings’ matter is known to all of us, as the cacophony created by life in our inner world. The artwork becomes an outward examination of life, dogged proof of living. Or at least, we recognise an attempt to map clarity in the noise.

Catching the light and swallowing the dark Jefferys’ paintings are as reflective as water, and as hard to hold. Their surfaces seem just as sensitive to tremors and vibrations around them, to cataclysmic shocks, and drawn out murmurs, wearing the crash and barrel in peaks and troughs, swelling then calming, but never still. Of course we think of the ocean, because what other metaphor can do justice to the incomprehensible vastness, infinite possibility and complete lack of control we feel in life? Treading water to keep our heaps above the surface, fighting the current or relinquishing control. Giving up, giving over. Floating, pulled in all directions by the tug.

As perhaps is the way with all artists, these paintings offer their creator moments of complete presence, to be lain bare in a hope to tame and to understand. Every normal day presents its obligations and compulsory patterns of action and the hugeness of living is held tightly to chest. On a good day there are moments for art, and the hugeness finds a place.


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