Art on Our Doorstep – Rooftops, Tadpoles, Clouds and Eggshells: Paintings and Drawings by Janet Dawson at The Nancy Sever Gallery in Kingston

The latest exhibition at The Nancy Sever Gallery has me skipping back into childhood with a heart as light as candy floss flying off a stick.


The art on display is by Janet Dawson and her pictures take me back to a time when simple things had a special glow. I am particularly drawn to her still lifes which remind us that a sauce bottle is as elegant as a crystal vase and a potato is an object of beauty.

Dawson does not paint pretty blossoms but there is a luminous truth in her depictions of earthy vegetables, banana peel and decaying leaves that is so much more satisfying to the spirit than a china vase of lilies and roses.
I love the rosy softness and robust sturdiness of her swedes, the broken eggshells, the squiggle of roots hanging down into water from a lopsided beetroot, crisp swirls of cut cabbage, a mess of melon seeds and the twiggy bareness of grape stalks on a patterned plate.

There is a lovely reassurance in Dawson’s still lifes. Her pictures are of lived moments – of muddled kitchen tables, bruised vegetables, things half eaten, tossed aside or left to sprout. They remind us that delicately tinted wild peaches are as perfect as a messy tangle of sprouting potatoes or scattered nutshells. They recognise that eggs are meant to be cracked and that fruit is meant to be eaten.
I don’t pose my still lifes as many do. They arrive on the table, things are cleared, there’s a bit of rearrangement, generally things already there are selected to take part and the work starts. (Janet Dawson)

There are many other magnificent works of tone and colour in this exhibition. Cloudy skies, sun showers, gloomy nights, hills, rocks and grass all reflect Dawson’s profound understanding of transience in nature. Nothing in her art is static. Everything is moving, changing, ebbing and flowing. The last light on the hill is just disappearing, clouds are shifting, smoke is blowing away.

My favourite works include two pictures of the roof of a house in afternoon and evening light. The solid comforting tin roof, framed by bare winter branches and tinged with the melancholy pale lemon light of early evening makes my heart ache. That bittersweet time between day and night is caught beautifully in these two works.
Dawson turns ordinary things like children playing on lawns, cars in driveways, garden hoses and letter boxes into visual stories that leap brightly into our consciousness. Her triptychs titled Autumn Sun 1 and 2 are a visual homage to life in Canberra suburbs.

Finally I have to mention a joyous little painting titled Tadpoles in a bucket. This odd and wonderful canvas encapsulates the astonishing and delightful quality that defines Janet Dawson’s art. Those dim enchanting tadpoles swimming about in murky green depths, in a plastic bucket, with some scraps of water weed and a knobbly stick. So mundane and so magical…
Janet Dawson’s art, like the poetry of the haiku masters, reminds us that nothing is eternal but that everything is significant.

How rare, how lovely!

Emerging from sacred peaks

young Ideha eggplant (Matsuo Basho)


© Anita Patel, 2015

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