BY Gemma Anderson

“Diverse, independent bodies of work… intrinsically linked by the mere kilometre between the artists’ childhood homes and their [respective] questioning of… the curious relationship between humans and nature.” 

- Hannah James (2019)

With Care is a recent exhibition featuring new work by emerging artists Hannah James and Nick Wakeham. Curated by James, the exhibition reflects the artists’ ongoing obsessions with nature; informed by the rural New South Wales landscape they both grew up in and still reside in. The featured bodies of work are linked by both the physical proximity and interpersonal relationship of the artists, as well as their individual explorations of the relationship between humans and nature, including how notions of care are evoked through this. However, despite drawing inspiration from the same site-specific location, the artists have vastly different responses to it and the notions of care it evokes. This, together with the fact that the artists work within contrasting mediums, has resulted in what James states are “incredibly different outcomes.”

On walking into the exhibition space, one can’t help but be drawn to the suite of paintings along the first space’s back wall. Painted by Wakeham, these paintings are individually titled Canopy, Bound, Concealment, Expanded, Revised, Cloud I, and have been made with oil paint on board. They depict abstracted landscapes, employing visible brush strokes, in a cool and muted colour palette. Through these paintings, Wakeham aims to question traditional landscape painting, and instead uses plein air painting as “a means of immersion” as well as “a process of exploring and… distorting space,” as stated by the artist.

To the left of Wakeham’s paintings, a wall is filled with small works made on paper and fabric, randomly dispersed across its entire surface. Like Wakeham’s paintings, this collection of work has a simple yet considered title, Home II, however James has made it. These works have a warm, earth-toned, muted colour palette, and consist of naturally dyed strips of cotton, silk, linen, as well as handmade paper, some of which have been block printed on. Like Wakeham, James depicts elements of the landscape in these relief prints, yet her depictions are more literal, with flowers clearly evident in some of the prints, alluding to gardening. James’ warm colour palette is in contrast to Wakeham’s cooler colour palette, yet the works compliment each other due to their shared muted, pared back, and carefully considered nature. This is not surprising, as the artists have shared a studio space this year.

Additionally, this first space features two small plinths, each holding a collection of artist books also made by James, collectively titled Make / Tea. The artist books employ the same aesthetic as James’ collection of wall works, having been again made from naturally dyed fabric and paper, yet their pages also feature hand typed text. The text is reflective of what one can assume are snippets of conversations, had by the artist about her art practice, while sharing cups of tea in the rural landscape her home is situated in. Examples of the text read, 'For the dye pot, for the tea, for that cold' and 'You want to know what it's like? It's like a warm blanket'.

Moving into the gallery’s second space, James has hung work in a similar layout to that of her wall work in the first space, yet this wall work is a collection of weavings. Titled Weave in Time, these weavings are likewise randomly dispersed across the entire surface of one wall, seamlessly linking the two spaces. Although equally immersive as the work in the first space, this collection of work places a much greater focus on texture as opposed literal depictions, and also combines warm tones with cooler tones, however the muted colour palette remains. Moreover, through these weavings James has used thread in a similar way to how Wakeham has used oil paint. Indeed, much like Wakeham’s visible brushstrokes, James’ stitching and weaving is daring and unapologetic. Patterns are left incomplete, colours are mixed, and irregular shapes are formed, all in a way that communicates with Wakeham’s painting style. Speaking of which, Wakeham also has two paintings in this second space, Sticks and Bush I. These paintings employ a much warmer colour palette to the paintings in the first space, and it is evidently clear that colour has been highly considered in the curatorial process. Certainly, James has ensured that the colours of these respective bodies of work contrast, yet speak to one another throughout.

In this second space, another carefully considered curatorial choice becomes apparent – on the back wall of this space, one of James’ weavings is pinned alongside Wakeham’s painting, Bush I. This is the only instance that work from each of the respective bodies of work is situated together on the same wall. This clearly indicates how the works can be integrated; yet exist largely independently, due to the decision to only do this once. Before noticing this, I questioned why James had not integrated the works, perhaps placing paintings in amongst the naturally dyed and block printed wall works, but upon entering the second space it was clear, James had carefully considered this, choosing to do so with only one weaving and one painting, highlighting that this decision, for the most part, to keep the works separate, was one that had been carefully considered. This communicates that yes, the works have the ability to be integrated, but it has been a curatorial decision to allow them to exist in their own right. Indeed, no stone has been left unturned in the careful curation of this exhibition.

On this topic of careful curation, it is only through reading and reflecting that one understands the work in the context of the exhibition’s carefully considered title, ‘With Care’. Indeed, one becomes aware that the works communicate how notions of care are evoked through the artists’ respective relationships with nature. For example, Wakeham’s work has been “tenderly painted” plein air style, in the “comfort” of the artists’ home environment, as stated by the exhibition text. This shows Wakeham’s care for the painting process and in turn care for himself, as well as care for his environment by the very fact he has chosen it as a subject matter.

Similarly, James’ work communicates how notions of care are evoked through her relationship with nature. Her fabrics and papers have been carefully dyed using natural materials and pigments found in her rural environment, and her relief prints, reflecting tending to a garden – an act of care for her environment, are then printed on this fabric and paper, while a selection of her weavings also use naturally dyed fibers. As stated by James, these essentially linked actions of natural dying, relief printmaking, and weaving “convey notions of care through ‘slow’, labour intensive methods of making,” akin to Wakeham’s “tenderly painted” works. Additionally, James’ allusion to the act of sharing tea with loved ones in this rural landscape through her artist books collectively titled Make/ Tea, is suggestive of an act of self-care, and simultaneously, showing care for others. This multifaceted nature that pertains to James’ work and notions of care is eloquently communicated through a quote from one of the artist books. As earlier mentioned, when James states, ‘For the dye pot, for the tea, for that cold,’ she could be referring to a material found in nature such as eucalyptus. Indeed, this is a material used for dying fabric – a slow and carefully considered process which will lead to other ‘slow’ methods of making such as relief printing and weaving, a material used for adding to tea to be enjoyed with a loved one in the garden – an act of self care, and a material used to help with a loved ones’ cold – likewise allowing the artist to care for them.

To conclude, James has successfully curated an exhibition space that is immersive, calming, tranquil, in fact nurturing and caring in itself. I feel calm in the space, transfixed by the care that has gone in to creating each intricate piece of work, and fully immersed in the space, cut off from the inner city suburb the gallery is situated in. Then later, as I drive back to my seventh-floor one-bedroom apartment, I find myself envious of the landscape the artists reside in and draw their inspiration from. I congratulate both James and Wakeham on this carefully considered exhibition, with such a fitting title, and I feel privileged to have been a part of the exhibition’s opening.

With Care was exhibited with Scratch Art Space, Marrickville, from August 7th to August 18th.

Hannah James completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honours at UNSW Art & Design in 2018 and is currently completing a Masters of Curating and Cultural Leadership. You can find Hannah James HERE

Nick Wakeham completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the National Art School in 2018. You can find Nick Wakem HERE