It is a day when Geelong is shrouded in eerie smoke haze from the bushfires burning in Victoria. A swathe of soft smog veils the Shell refinery; the You Yangs have all but disappeared; and the Corio Bay horizon is smudged into the dusky sky. It feels like a scene from a movie set and so it is perhaps appropriate that I am on my way to view an exhibition titled Imagined Landscapes by Bianca Brant. When I arrive Bianca is sitting on the floor of the gallery, painting, and as she almost unconsciously absorbs the conditions around her on this hazy day, her painting develops a muted, misty tone.
Imagined Landscapes is Bianca’s first solo exhibition after completing Deakin’s Bachelor of Creative Arts last year, graduating with distinction and winning the first prize in the recent graduate show. As the exhibition title suggests, these paintings are not literal landscapes but an evocation of Bianca’s experience of place and the intuitive connections that she makes. Although Bianca often works en plein air, responding to her immediate environment, her abstracted works are a collage of memories, thoughts and feelings.
“I am reimagining my emotional landscape – all the swirling ideas, thoughts and hopes, and putting them on paper. I try to fill in all the connections of people, place, conversations and coincidence,” Bianca explains.
Hope is a recurring theme for the 40 year old artist who has used the motif of confetti to symbolise the belief that things will work out. Her landscapes are often strewn with confetti-like patterns, a random design she developed during a painting session at the Geelong waterfront when she saw the grass dotted with small, brightly coloured pieces of paper after a recent wedding. Bianca incorporates this symbol of hope in her work, reimagining a new world.
“Watching the news there’s so much pain and suffering. Man’s inhumanity can be overwhelming,” Bianca says. “Hope is the ingredient you need to reconcile shock and trauma. It is amazing how people can somehow pull themselves together and be so resilient.”
In Bianca’s highly personalised and distinctive visual language, other symbols appear in these colourful invented topographies: eagles, safety nets, monsters and other motifs of protection. As she paints, different ideas and thoughts emerge and these are incorporated into her interpretation of the world. Conversations, poetry and literature can stimulate imagery too, as can memories and dreams.
Bianca presents her landscapes from an aerial perspective, as though viewing the landscape from a bird’s eye view. She finds the “detachment in elevation” aesthetically and conceptually pleasing. Geometric shapes become land masses like those on a map. The picture plane is flat with patchworks of colour that vibrate on the paper. She uses intense colour in parts and gentle textures in the broad areas of “featureless ground”.
For this exhibition Bianca has presented thirteen works on paper. Even though Bianca uses oil paint, she prefers to paint on archival paper rather than canvas because paper offers her freedom to experiment which she might not otherwise achieve if she was feeling precious about the materials.
Most of the paintings were created over the past four months but Bianca will complete two of the larger scale works hanging on the “making wall” throughout the course of the exhibition. While I was there, Bianca had removed the largest work, just under 3 metre wide, off the wall and was painting it on the floor which is her usual way of working. She likes people to see her paintings in progress and the conversations that arise between artist and audience can shape the painting’s development. This performative aspect of her art practice is an area Bianca wants to pursue further. She is passionate about performance art and regularly travels to Melbourne to see performance artists at work.
“I like performance art because it is the ultimate act of bravery – your body is the canvas. It is always so profound because it is the human figure that you are watching. You can’t side step it. You have to experience what is going on in front of you. It is real.”
As the curator at Etch, Bianca would like to see more performance art in Geelong and has plans for several performance art collaborations later in the year.
Bianca speaks eloquently about her work and it is no surprise to learn that she is an avid writer too. Obviously of a poetic disposition, she describes her work expressively in her artist’s statement which sums up this exhibition far better than my 812 words…
Artist’s Statement – Bianca Brant
“Leaky boat journeys to indefinite detention are a cruel blow to hope. What can an artist to do but draw a brand new world? An imagined landscape where the romantic notion of the individual artist working in the landscape continues. Bianca Brant paints in a visual language that is rhythmic, improvised and performative. Her ‘en plein air’ practice of landscape painting on site examines the collaborative space between artist, place and audience. From the imagined elevation of a bird in flight, the artist ascends to a small world experience of detachment to explore themes weighty and profound. Nature’s restorative power is painted in a bright emotional palette celebrating life’s safety nets: the meditative state of the runner, a gardener’s pottering or the surfer at dawn. This Kantian understanding of humanity’s resilience and ability to reconcile shock is documented on archival paper, a medium that appears fragile but is strong. Real-time experiences, triggered memories and future projections of hope are made-by-hand in evocative landscapes expressing what 1000 words spoken cannot.”
Bianca graduated with distinction from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts) in 2013, and was awarded First Prize in the Deakin Graduate Exhibition. She has been nominated for the HATCHED National Graduate Exhibition at PICA, as well as the Deakin Medal and the Vice-Chancellors’ Medal for Outstanding Contribution to University Life. She will continue her postgraduate studies this year while working at Etch Gallery in a curatorial role.