As an art history major, I have been conditioned to researching artists extensively before attending a gallery opening. I operate the same way in regards to movies and menus- I read up before heading to the big screen or a new restaurant. You could call it being boring and predictable or interested and informed. But because of an experience at Wagner Contemporary a couple of weekends ago, I realize that I should do myself a favor and be more spontaneous, more open to the unpredictable, and more accepting of the imaginative and ethereal. I attended a deeply inspiring exhibit that took me beyond this world and into a faraway place, leaving behind worries, schedules, and thoughts of the every day. I had not “studied the menu” before attending, but was delightfully served a nine-course spread of spectacular art that left my senses reeling!
Before attending, I knew that exhibition at Wagner was called “More Than I Can Imagine,” showcasing the artwork of contemporary artist Bec Juniper. I also remembered gallery owner Nadine Wagner excitedly telling me about the exhibit months ago, and how Juniper uses aerial views and shapes with mixed media to create her work. Besides these few hints, I did not know what to expect. I had gone against my modus operandi of exhaustive research before attending, but for me it was an ideal way to experience this set of artwork.
Upon ascending the stairs to the gallery, I was met with Fabric Interior. Even before reading its title (I am a diehard lover of all things textiles), I fell in love with it. Highly patterned and textural, its large scale emitted a bold presence, but it was not the aerial perspective-inspired composition I was expecting. But isn’t that what artists are supposed to do? Wow you, surprise you, make you think and wonder what’s next?
The exhibition evolved from there, each piece different but equally awe-inspiring. Some works reminded me of a bird’s eye view of the nearby Australian beaches, while others were reminiscent of arid land. I was left staring in front of most for periods at a time, mesmerized. The colors were bold, texture plentiful, shapes and effects innumerable, yet the art left me at ease, at peace, staring, contemplating as one would in front of a Rothko.
I simply had to know more and thankfully, the gracious Bec Juniper herself sat with me for an interview. I use “interview” loosely as, similar to her artwork, a straightforward question/answer format was quietly dismissed and in place a natural, comfortable, yet enthralling conversation progressed. I loved learning about how she works and what we as viewers can expect next!
Bec hails from Western Australia, and her local roots are seen in art reminiscent of its aerial landscape views. Her former occupation working in landscape design certainly plays a role in her hyper-attentiveness to the earth’s organic shapes and variations. Her ways of working are also extremely environmentally conscious.
Purpose & Theme
When asked about how she works and what makes her tick, Bec described the process as one of “experimentation and development.” She is inherently driven by “how art gets its originality.”
Layers, time and age are other common themes Juniper mentioned, all highly apparent throughout the exhibition.
Juniper works on a body of work simultaneously, always multiples, never one at a time. She does not rely on a photograph but rather memory and imagination. A few times she mentioned to me that it’s important for her to “get her materials to speak.”
She uses archival inks with mediums to “find” said inks. To achieve the incredible variation in colors, Juniper uses different weights of organic pigments. After all, as she reminded me, most of the best pigments come from nature. She much prefers to use them over oils– not only for their vibrancy but for their non-toxic and environmentally responsible qualities.
One of the main components setting her work apart from others is her use of a grass tree resin called xanthorrhoea, native to Australia. It’s “like nature’s shellac” and is deeply important to her work. If you come away from this post knowing anything about Bec Juniper, know that she uses xanthorrhoea. It is a nod to her landscape design background, her Australian heritage, and her expertise at mixing pigment and medium to create original, extraordinary effects on canvas.
To achieve the gold effect of that first bold piece I saw, Juniper used micaceous paint. She affirmed my observation that it is entirely expressionistic, much looser and simpler in color from the rest of the pieces on exhibit.
Other favorite mediums include ochres and iron oxide. Juniper is incredibly inspired by Max Dourner’s book The Materials of the Artist going back to the techniques of old masters. Knowing that they relied only on what the environment supplied to them, and knowing how lasting they have proven for centuries, I do not blame her for adopting their ways.
After over 20 years of exhibitions (and admitting she is an “artist who works every day”), Juniper is taking a much deserved development period. She is not booking any further shows for about a year.
This time of development will be heavily dedicated to her alter ego, “Jet Dangerfield.” Neither identifiable as a male or female, this character has an anonymity similar to that of Banksy. During this experimental time, Juniper wants to take the skills of the Jet and “apply it to something new and different.” No doubt she will do just that.
Juniper will use risk-taker Jet “as an excuse to do brave things” and will promote Jet via social media. She expects the resulting art to be different, possibly figurative, and inherently related to the human condition. “The idea is not altogether different from Rorschach ink blots- what you relate to and what you make of the figure,” Juniper explained.
Why I Love It
While working in her studio, Bec mentions that she loses her anxieties. Especially after a tragic accident involving her son, she found it as an escape and sense of relaxation. She hopes that effect follows to the owner and viewer, and for me it certainly did. You realize, while staring at her art, that you are part of something much bigger and more significant.
Bec mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that it’s “hard to stop your impulses” as an artist. I would agree as an art lover and viewer, too. Going into this exhibition somewhat blind, I was led by my senses, my gut, my impulses. I encourage you to find the equivalent, whether in this fabulous exhibition or the next one you attend. Don’t be so careful to read up on every detail, but get lost in the experience and enjoy that world where it takes you.
Enjoy the below as some favorites from the exhibition. For all of the Aussies out there, I hope you had a chance to see it. For my overseas readers, enjoy the online photos (tho they don’t do her work justice!) and stay tuned for Jet Dangerfield!
Special thanks to Bec Juniper for the inspiration and time taken to discuss your art, and to Wagner Contemporary for being a constant source of amazing art.