Entering the Nancy Sever Gallery this week, I am accosted by the glowing and glorious world of Annie Franklin. This exhibition takes us on a journey through bush, forest and waterways. We wander down tree lined paths, past wetlands and over tangled grass. But these are no ordinary depictions of bush and water. Franklin’s work is crowded with perfect miniature images – and our eyes are drawn to seemingly insignificant details: birds’ beaks, sea shells, pebbles, fish skeletons, fungi, insects. This is no accident. Like the haiku poets, Franklin deliberately illuminates the unseen and tiny things that lie beneath grand landscapes.
These paintings shine some light on the unnoticed world underfoot; its intricacies, its significance and its connectivity with the more visible world above… on the beauty of the small kingdoms – the world that is underfoot and under-appreciated; the insects, small birds, leaf litter and mulch, the fungi and lichen, the cycle of decay and new growth, the industry with literally the weight of the world on its shoulders, without which all life would cease to exist. (Annie Franklin)
Franklin’s work is hard to define. Her paintings draw us into familiar environments – ponds, gum trees, pastel skies, sun dappled grass but her style is far from commonplace. Her talent as a print maker is evident in the almost childlike simplicity of motifs in borders around small pictures like Backyard lifecycles II, V and VI. Here mushrooms, birds, pine cones, eggs and petals, in earthy colours, create a folky frame around a vibrant pink waterlily or a sprig of bush blossom.
This affinity with printmaking can also be seen in the influence of oriental and Tiwi design in her work. The soft inky blues and wavy patterns in paintings like Fossil and seaweed, Picnic Point and Arangunnu tideline recall the designs and colours of shibori fabric as does the row of tiny blossoms in Pioneers and the pale wash of blue curves in Winter sun and frost, Jerrabomberra.
Annie Franklin’s art is quite simply astonishing. We gaze in wonder at the quirky, unexpected and dazzling layers in these slightly wonky canvases. We are entranced by a march of black ants under an upside down reflected tree, a tidy row of moths on the bottom edge of a bushland scene, a dance of birds beneath the earth, a scatter of flying insects flung against the blue black sky.
Franklin’s works depict layers of life but nothing is predictable. We search like children for minute secrets in these works and we are rewarded with glimpses of whimsical and lovely moments. A pair of magpies hidden in the corner of a grassy woodland, scribbled markings on tree bark, a sliver of sea shell, a gossamer wing.
At the same time they celebrate the pleasure I derive from a life that allows me to engage with my environment and its daily and seasonal changes, to observe the nuances of light and colour and to marvel at the minutiae. (Annie Franklin)
We smile in delight at jewel like pops of seaweed, the delicate markings on the petals of an orchid and the way that the scarlet heart shapes of fuchsias are mirrored in the bright beaks of birds. This is an artist who understands that all things matter and as we lose ourselves in her paintings we know that she is absolutely right.
© Anita Patel, 2016