Artist Interview: Jannette McLaughlin (Janno) - Art Collector

5 March 2012

Australian artist Jannette McLaughlin, also known as Janno, spoke to Australian Art Collector about her new exhibition Querido Alfredo.

Janno, Alfredo couldn’t believe his luck, 2011. Acrylic paint, silk cotton thread on canvas, 183 x 122cm. Courtesy: the artist

Tell me about your new exhibition, Querido Alfredo. How does it differ from some of your earlier work?

Querido Alfredo was initially inspired by an Argentine love story from the 1920s and is itself a journey of love, travel and friendship. The exhibition is a work in progress without any real beginning or end, a snapshot of a year’s toil living abroad in a foreign culture.

The seed for
Querido Alfredo began to sprout a year ago on a sunny afternoon whilst wandering amongst the stalls of my favourite flea market in Buenos Aires … It was there that I discovered … amongst the flotsam -- five hand-stitched love letters. I thought them exquisite, and on closer inspection realised that the author, Julia, had sewn them herself for her absent lover, Alfredo. That she loved this man was obvious, by the words and the time that it must have taken to sew her love into these painstaking silk stitches.

This exhibition is really an extension of all my previous exhibitions and themes of hope, optimism, loss, resistance, and love – with a more obvious focus on love in all its quirky forms.

How do you hope people will respond to your work?

I hope that viewers will respond positively when they see my paintings in person, and feel the sentiments of love, hope, humour, optimism, and resilience in the works.

I love that there is an element of surprise and joy, especially when people can see up close those things that are not obvious from a distance.

Right: Janno, Yes you can, 2011. Acrylic paint, cotton thread on canvas, 100 x 150cm. Courtesy: the artist

How do you find that your experiences as an Australian woman travelling and living in developing countries such as India, Nepal and Argentina has affected your artistic practice? Your use of raw colour, for example, seems to indicate a more exotic influence.

I have written a lot about travel and its influences on my work, and I think that I cannot separate myself completely from it. Travelling, and living abroad for the past eighteen years has compelled me see the world through a different lens and I am forever drawn to the contrast of cultures, language, colour, remote wilderness and the exotic.

I have just this week returned from running in a grueling three day, 115km mountain race across the Andes in Chile [and] Argentina … it was incredible, horrific, beautiful, badly organised and, overall, totally inspirational! … [I] came out alive and reinvigorated with a love and great appreciation of life. This too will in turn feed my work and art.

I love being an Australian and I appreciate everything that goes into that great gift of birth, especially when working endless hours in an impoverished and filthy slum and realising just how difficult life can be in other less fortunate cultures.

Your mural project in a woman’s refuge in Buenos Aires has, last year, been declared of official cultural interest by the City Ministry of Culture. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

I started the project with Muriel Hussin, the then-wife of the Australian ambassador to Buenos Aires … to come up with some ways to raise money for disadvantaged children through the practice of art.

We [flew] my Australian friend, artist Peter Daverington, to Argentina. Together, Peter and I travelled across the country painting murals in slums, schools and women’s refuges, as well as assisting the children to create small artworks to be auctioned. It was an amazing project and we loved it and finished up painting in the slum of Riachuelo in January 2007.

Five years on, our project in Riachuelo has continued, with me leading a group … from the expatriate community who selflessly donate their time and money to paint the walls of the slum. It is really for the children there and at times it is really hard, expensive and sometimes thankless work -- but it has been an incredible experience and held together, again, by love and mutual respect.

Above right: Janno, You may think me a fool, 2011. Acrylic paint, silk kimono, cotton thread on canvas, 100 x 150cm. Courtesy: the artist

You have previously worked with sculpture, as well as painting, and now you have moved into stitched paintings and sewing in your new exhibition. What prompted the move into new mediums?

I have always loved experimenting and love the process of creating, but to be honest, my need for different mediums is very tied in with the need to express a thought in a different light – so the same thought or metaphor can be expressed or emphasized and explored through different mediums and threads. The sewing in this exhibition is closely connected with the postcards that inspired the show, as well as linking … concepts of mothering, helping, healing, mending – music, dance, listening, talking … all the ways we communicate.

Life, hope, optimism, resilience, friendship and love are words that crop up often in discussions of your work. What is your keyword for 2012?

This one is easy! LOVE.

Zoe Wilesmith

Janno’s exhibition
Querido Alfredo is at MARS Gallery in Melbourne from 8 March to 31 March 2012.

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