Geelong artists create a riot of colour at Affordable Art Fair Melbourne

Two Geelong artists have been putting the finishing touches on their paintings in preparation for what will be one of the busiest weekends in their artistic careers. Although they paint primarily for their own gratification and not for a commercial market, the chance to have their work seen by a huge number of people over a short period of time was too good to refuse. This week, Janne Kearney and Jan Synot will head up the highway to the Art Melbourne Affordable Art Fair where they have a stand at the four day event.

“You can pay to go in a Melbourne gallery for two weeks and you might not get many people through,” Jan Synot explains. “Whereas Art Melbourne will have at least 10,000 people come through in just four days. We want the exposure. Selling is not the prime objective of either of us. We just want to get our work out there.”

The women have known each other for years when they used to play badminton together. While both dabbled in art, it is only in recent years that they have pursued their art more seriously. Janne Kearney began her career as an interior painter and decorator (first female apprentice in Australia) but these days she paints portraits and figurative pieces full time. Her works are dramatic and imbued with powerful colour. She received a Highly Commended in the Mortimer Prize in 2009, was a finalist in the Black Swan portrait prize last year, and has just been shortlisted from entrants across the globe for the Lethbridge 10000, a $10,000 Brisbane-based, small-scale art prize. For the art fair, she will be exhibiting paintings from her elderly people and tattooed people series.

“Tattooed people are often maligned or misunderstood – diametrically so are the elderly,” says Kearney whose intimate figurative studies explore an idiosyncratic nostalgia of the marginalized, with narratives from both social sectors.  “Acceptance of difference or perceived ugliness will only change if it receives an audience – my work seeks to explore this.”

When Kearney was invited to exhibit at Affordable Art Fair she asked Synot to share the stand with her. “We both have a love of colour which is evident in our work,” says Kearney. “I thought Jan’s work would be a perfect complement to my work, and my work to hers.”

Synot then had to submit her work to the organisers before her entry was approved. Now, along with 600 other artists presenting their artworks in the Royal Exhibition Building, Synot and Kearney have a 3m square space in which to hang their work.

Originally a porcelain painter, Synot taught china painting for thirty years, but after studying at Brougham Art School to gain her Advanced Diploma in Visual Arts, she began to explore more contemporary approaches to flower painting and took to oil painting with a passion. This weekend she will be exhibiting her colourful, Geelong Botanica Series depicting icons from the Geelong Botanical Gardens.

“My first love is the flowers but I don’t want to make just a pretty flower painting. I want that extra element of interest in it,” says Synot. “I found this way of colour layering the background. And to bring in an extra dimension, I put paint on with a palette knife to make the texture come forward. It is not botanical art – it’s the art of botanica.”

Both artists are colourists with a painterly approach and both artists push their subject matter further than a traditional rendering. For Synot, a keen gardener, it is the beauty of the flora and the endless combination of colour that interest her. For Kearney, it is all about honouring people who are marginalised and undervalued. These vibrant paintings of strong colour and striking subjects are bound to grab the attention of the art-loving crowds at the fair.

The Affordable Art Fair is one of the largest annual art shows in Australia. In 1999, Will Ramsay founded the fair in London with the aim to make art accessible for everyone. He holds the view that you don’t need to be an art expert to enjoy art, or a millionaire to buy it. The fair has become a great success and is now staged in cities around the world including New York, Milan, Singapore, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Sydney. While some critics have mocked the fair for its bargain basement approach, there’s no doubting its popularity and its capacity to launch the careers of genuine artistic talents.

Although our two Geelong artists may not be seeking commercial success, they will certainly benefit from the experience. Look out for Janne Kearney and Jan Synot at Stand F11 and be bedazzled by colour! Art Melbourne Affordable Art Fair opens on Thursday
19 May and runs through until Sunday 22 May, at the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton.

You can also view Janne Kearney’s work online at and Jan Synot’s work at

Thanks to Janne Kearney and Jan Synot for allowing me to publish the following images of their work.

If, Janne Kearney.

Jean, Janne Kearney.

The Goddess Movement, Janne Kearney.

Self Portrait by Numbers, Janne Kearney.

Red, Jan Synot.

Botanica – Dry Garden, Jan Synot.

Afternoon Birds, Jan Synot.

Botanica – Sun Shower, Jan Synot.

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