Feature

It has been said that the mega-rich know from experience that everything is for sale; you just have to name the right price. But when most of us visit a public art gallery or museum we assume that we can’t buy the artworks exhibited there, no matter how much we might like to. Artworks in public galleries are not for sale. Or are they?

At the Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) visitors have been able to purchase some artworks since the institution re-opened last spring. Jennifer Wright, MAMA’s creative business and operations coordinator, explains that since the “redevelopment, restructure and refocus” of the museum, three out of the nine potential exhibition spaces are dedicated to showing artworks that are for sale.

Jo Davenport, Fifteen Miuntes of Gold 2015, Belgian Linen, collection of the artist
Jo Davenport, Fifteen Miuntes of Gold, 2015, Belgian linen, collection of the artist.

This makes MAMA what Wright calls “a hybrid or multi-opportunity space.” For her, it’s a win-win business plan with the aim of fostering financial self-sufficiency for the gallery as well as helping artists to earn a living. “Since we opened in October 2015 we have sold some $85,000 worth of artworks,” Wright explains, “This is close to $73,000 going back to artists.”

Local Albury-based painter Jo Davenport is the latest to make the most of this opportunity. “For me painting was something that was always there,” she says, “Both my grandmothers were painters and I grew up surrounded by big, beautiful oil paintings.” Davenport has been painting her whole life, and training since 1979, but after graduating in 2011 with a Master of Fine Arts she was quickly picked up by her two current commercial dealers (Flinders Lane Gallery in Melbourne and Arthouse Gallery in Sydney) and being an artist started to seem like a financially viable career.

Davenport’s exhibition at MAMA, Here & Now, is her twelfth solo show to date. In 2013, Davenport was selected to be in the group exhibition, Action/Abstraction, at the Wangaratta Regional Art Gallery, which also included Aida Tomescu, Sally Gabori, IIdiko Kovacs and Todd Hunter. And it’s easy to see why. Her densely layered, gestural compositions in bright warm colours sat comfortably in this illustrious company.

Looking at her paintings you can sense Davenport savours what she does. “Over the years I have worked in many different mediums: ceramics, sculpture, metal, sewing and embroidery, encaustic, watercolours, printmaking, drawing, charcoal and photography, and loved them all,” she says. “But for me there is an energy in painting large oils on canvas that I find hard to explain.” This passion for the medium invigorates her work; it animates each brushstroke and her canvases seem to almost vibrate with an exuberance and joy.

Jo Davenport.Pink Fields, 1530 x 1530, oil on Belgian linen
Jo Davenport, Pink Fields, oil on Belgian linen, 1530 x 1530 mm.

Davenport says, “Painting for me is about relationships.” This includes internal relationships within the painting itself, such as between the paint and the canvas and between the first mark and subsequent marks. But the primary relationship she engages with is external: the relationship between the artist and the landscape. For although her work is essentially abstract, Davenport’s creative wellspring is her local environment.

“My works are not about memories of a landscape topography. I am not trying to record what is physically there; it’s more about the emotions. My paintings don’t conform to any pre-existing idea of what a landscape should be,” she explains. “Abstraction allows for a layering of meanings that can be experienced in unison. The painting therefore is never static or fixed; it can keep changing, be full of possibilities and have a life of its own. I like to generate energy in the work by keep the painting open and airy. I create windows so the viewer can enter into the work, move through it and experience or understand the landscape as I have done.”

Davenport walks most days near her home in what she describes as “an amazing part of the world.” She lives downstream from Albury in an area called Splitters Creek on the Murray River, very near the Wonga wetlands. “The wetlands are the floodplain of the Murray River. An ecosystem of lagoons and billabongs covering around 80 hectares, the wetlands are a haven for wildlife, especially birds,” the artist says. “There are miles of walking tracks throughout. And this is the origin of many of my works.”

“The Murray River plays an enormous part in life in Albury,” says Davenport, “and MAMA makes an important contribution to the cultural life in our region.” Of her solo show Here & Now, Davenport says she’s honoured to be exhibiting in the regional gallery, “even though there is added ‘pressure in getting it right’ in my home town.”

Here & Now
Jo Davenport
Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA)
25 August – 2 October

Tracey Clement