Reflecting upon Nature's Children: Sarah Duncan's Solo Exhibition

Easel Art Space has been pleased to welcome Sarah Duncan’s solo exhibition Nature’s Children for a fortnight in May 2021. Her earlier student work had been known to and respected by curator Jo Chisholm Ray at CStudios Art Gallery, who had noted Sarah’s earlier artistic progress through paintings shown in the Waldorf SchoolNewcastle HSC displays, hosted by CStudios from time to time. In 2021 with apprehension of Sarah’s youthfulness, a confident decision was made by Easel Art Space to host the solo exhibition.

Sarah is currently studying Architecture at the University of Newcastle. She is in her second year. No matter her weight of studies, simultaneously she was able and willing to hang twenty-seven (27) works in her solo exhibition, ample demonstration of dedication both to her art and to its developing practice. Many guests at the Opening on Friday 7 May 2021 commented on Sarah’s known work ethic, energy and her view to the future. For recorded commentary Prue Sailer.

Visitors to the exhibition responded variously; some found the Children confronting, others found them reassuring. Some commented on the natural history illustration works – flora as much as the fauna – being attractive, skilfully, accurately rendered; so many said, ‘the eyes tell it all’ (Sunday 9 May 2021).

By the time Sarah’s two week exhibition had to close, some seventy (70) percent including commissioned work were sold. These finely finished works have gone into private collections, with others to follow. The appreciation of Sarah’s ‘audience’ was obvious daily; people came to look again, not least because of some surprise at the nexus of youth, talent and skill.

Therefore as Easel Art Space commends Sarah upon her solo exhibition, and thanks the hundreds of visitors and those who decided to ‘live with’ one or more of Sarah’s works, it is timely to add context which will illuminate some of the subtleties of her present artistic practice.

Discussions around the works over the fortnight led to Sarah’s responding to our gallery’s inquiries. Edited extracts of her responses:

“The title of many of the works is a word or phrase which is the scientific name of the animal in the hair of the figure. By choosing to have the name in Latin, I believe it can be read as the name for the whole image, perhaps the name of the individual depicted, in addition to its literal meaning.”

As the works became more familiar to us in the gallery, it became apparent that the naming of the work drawing on the fauna or flora included in each depiction had the potential for inverting wittily the perceivable simplicity of each. Plain smock, swaddling ‘clouts’, direct gaze, appealing independent natural carapace ‘habitats’ providing sanctuary or serenity – all unified by the Latinate title. There is no pain in Nature’s child – neither in children nor Nature. There is however natural community for each.

Layers of meaning, discussion in depth, questions posed.

In describing technique Sarah has commented:

“The very first work I did in this style I initially just drew in charcoal. I looked at it and decided it needed colour so I thought of adding chalk pastel since the two media share similar qualities. I did some separate tests to discover what each colour looked like when blended or placed with charcoal, then using a tortillon stick and a makeup brush, transferred the coloured pastel onto the charcoal drawing.”

As many visitors and observers noted, the character of each image is differentiated, personality communicated. In her earlier Artist’s Statement (see Sarah explained:

“Sarah’s hope as an artist is to raise an awareness of the environmental issues and the harm people are doing to their surroundings. By choosing this subject matter Sarah aims to celebrate and show an appreciation of Australia’s beautiful native wildlife.”

Looking at the solo exhibition, the figurative studies in particular show considerable range, about which Sarah has confirmed her generous, temperate theme of ‘freedom to interpret’. She does not now consider any of her work didactic or polemical. She allows each work its own discussion:

“When choosing the figure for each drawing, I try to relate the personality to the chosen species. People’s interpretation of the works differs, and what I intend and what the audience sees can vary. Essentially I would like to leave my work open to the viewer’s interpretation.”

Moreover in respect of the ‘presence’ of exquisite flora – eucalypts, grevillea, climbers - we see the developed artistic relationship between those and humans, both accompanied by companion fauna. Sarah has confirmed that

“Some are depictions of endangered species; however as a whole they are studies which show appreciation of Australian native fauna.”

Now, with the close of the solo exhibition, Easel-Art-Space is glad to ‘look back and again look at’, to acknowledge the engaging depth and resonance of each of Sarah Duncan’s works. Her readiness to expand the observer’s awareness by illuminating comment is acknowledged. It helps ‘interpretation’ whilst increasing the potential for informed opinion increasing solid personal enjoyment in the lives of those who have chosen to collect one or more of Sarah’s works.

Sarah continues to exhibit with Easel-Art-Space. Works available are online. Crucially though, for us at “Easel” there have been professional satisfaction and pleasure in the recognition of a talented youthful artist, productive, dedicated and decidedly original whose world view, seen through Natures’ Child, points skilfully, thoughtfully, carefully forward. Right now.

Peter Cornish 24 May 2021.


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