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Keynote Speaker announced for Drawing Out: 2012 – Janet McKenzie

Keynote speaker abstract and author information, Dr Janet McKenzie, research fellow, University of Dundee.

Paper title: Drawing as discovery.

Discovery as both process and destination (verb and noun) is itself a metaphor for drawing, in that drawing in contemporary art practice is multi-faceted, exploratory, free from art-historic convention, or technical definition. It is appropriate that this conference should take place in London whilst two great artists in this country are being celebrated: Lucian Freud, who died last year, and the energetic and inventive, David Hockney. I cannot think of any other artists of recent history and the present whose oeuvre displays the magnificent and varied invention of the drawn image in the hands of a truly great practitioner, the physical act of drawing, the psychological and intellectual journey taken by two artists in one of the simplest, most primal of forms – observational, naturalistic, surreal and dream-like, tender, heart-rending, funny and quintessentially human. After I was invited to write this new book on contemporary Australian drawing, and as I steeped myself in the literature of Australian art of the past 25 years since I left, I had several strong experiences. When colleagues, friends et al asked me what I was doing, I found myself saying, “it’s Australian, but Australia is a concentrated global culture”. The population there being made up descendants of the original white settlers, there are also historic waves of migrants, from all parts of the world. What distinguishes Australia from other new world countries is the spectacular industry of art made by the aboriginal and Torres strait islanders, of great interest internationally, and whose work occupies a pivotal position in Australian culture today. Among many issues to address are those of cultural bricolage and the resultant visual dynamism, which is central to much of their work, alongside the fundamental struggle for identity and survival. In a recent interview I was very pleased to hear the claim that “all aboriginal art is drawing,” for all aboriginal art has a directness of transmission, unlike traditional western art that is built up in layers. Significant mark-making is critical in the assertion of cultural loss and the historic legacy all Australians must strive to reconcile. At drawing out, I will show the work of artists whose work can be described as embracing aspects of notation, discovery, identity, writing and recording, always against a global background. Their work I have found enables the extension of definitions of the boundaries of culture, to explore the complex and remarkable interaction that takes place now more than ever before.

Janet McKenzie grew up in Australia and was educated at the Australian national university in art history and philosophy. She taught at the Canberra school of art, the Victorian college of the arts and college of fine art, university of new south Wales. Her first book, Drawing in Australia: Contemporary Images and Ideas (Macmillan 1986) sought to examine perceptual drawing, observing then: “drawing reveals the subtlest movement, the most clinical analysis, the most precise drama. Modern drawing gives room for alternative reactions – functions assumed by different signs are at once explicit and suggestive. In this sense drawing is as much a record of the subtler elements in our culture as any written or verbal record”. In 1986 Janet McKenzie married architect Michael Spens and moved to Scotland, the following year. Whilst raising a family her studio practice was primarily painting. She also continued writing and publishing and completed her doctorate at the university of St Andrews on the art of Arthur Boyd, under the supervision of professor martin Kemp, published by Thames and Hudson (2000). She has co-edited studio international with Michael Spens since 2000. Her most recent publication contemporary Australian drawing, a study of 78 artists (metasenta/palgrave Macmillan,) will be launched at the university of the arts, London at drawing out, 31 March 2012. In 2011, Janet McKenzie embarked on drawing on two worlds, a practice-led research project using collaborative drawing to explore issues of identity and dispossession in Scotland and Australia. She is senior research fellow at the university of Dundee.

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