Dec 23 2008

Dawson – Janet

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Medium: Painting, printing & set design


Painter, printer, teacher and stage designer, Janet Dawson acquired historical importance and widespread critical acclaim for pioneering the international style of colourfield painting in Australia.

 Born in 1935, Dawson’s talents were recognised early and from the age of eleven she studied privately before attending the National Gallery Art School, Melbourne, 1951-1956. In 1956 she was awarded the National Gallery of Victoria Travelling Scholarship and enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, studying lithography. Assisted by a Boise Scholarship from the Slade, she travelled and worked in Italy and extended her technical skills in printmaking at Atelier Patris, Paris. During her time in Europe, Dawson experienced a wide range of art studying the great collections and viewed big travelling exhibitions such as Wassily Kandinsky (1958), New American Painting (1959) both at the Tate, and Jackson Pollock (1960) at Whitechapel Gallery. These were to have a lasting influence on her work.

Dawson returned to Australian with a strong commitment to design and non objective art, vitalised and ready to challenge the critics. Aside from her own exhibitions, Dawson worked at Galley A in Melbourne and revived print making in Australia, in 1963 establishing a print workshop, working with artists such as John Olsen, Fred Williams, Russell Drysdale, Albert Tucker, Charles Blackman and Colin Lanceley.

 By the time Dawson exhibited in the groundbreaking 1968 ‘The Field’ exhibition, which opened the new premises of the National Gallery of Victoria and gave institutional recognition to the style, she had ultimately found the movement too limiting.

Later in Sydney, working as an assistant at the Australian Museum, Dawson turned her attention to scientific drawing, illustrations, exhibition and display case design. She also became involved with theatre, making props and sets for a number of modern productions.

In 1973 Dawson and her husband Michael Boddy moved from the city to Binalong in rural NSW where Dawson’s practice shifted focus.

She became absorbed in her immediate landscape and embraced the change through her art practice. Many works from this period relate directly to Dawson’s interest in the landscape including changing seasons, organically grown produce, shifting skyscapes, animals and native flora.

Since her student days, Dawson has also painted many portraits of family and friends. In 1973, Janet Dawson became the third woman in the history of the event to win the Archibald Prize with the portrait, Michael Boddy reading.

With over 20 solo exhibitions and almost 100 group shows to her credit, Dawson’s work has maintained its virtuosity, through stylistic changes.