A response to 'Intersections' by Janet DeBoos and Wendy Teakel
Dr Sarah Schmidt

DeBoos and Teakel are here in keeping with recent ‘paired’ shows. In 2019: M. C. Escher in dialogue with Japanese design studio Nendo; George Baldessin and Brett Whiteley paired;[1] Canberran Patricia Piccinini, with the late Joy Hester, two artists practising 40 years apart, at their closest convergence.[2] Unlike Piccinini and Hester, working decades apart, Janet DeBoos and Wendy Teakel, working as contemporaries, are building a dialogue together. The two artists see powerful links in their approaches to making, despite practising in different mediums (DeBoos - ceramics and Teakel - paintings, work on paper, and sculpture). In this exhibition the two artists describe an ‘approach to landscape through dialogue, making and getting lost.’ Being lost has become the central tenet of the exhibition.

Their dialogue about landscape and being lost, brought to mind a theorist’s words on a landscape-based work by artist Sherrie Levine (that uses Eliot Porter’s artwork in quotation). The writer describes, ‘the lush, coloured landscapes of Eliot Porter are reproduced, we again move through the “original” print, back to the origin in nature and [then] through another trap door at the back wall of “nature” into the purely textual construction of the sublime and its history of degeneration into ever more lurid copies.’[3] This is like getting lost, in a conceptual version of landscape, getting lost in a wonderful jungle of art theory, or physically, such as being lost in one of Sidney Nolan’s vast deserts.

While I have chosen Levine as an entry point into relating to the work of Janet DeBoos and Wendy Teakel and their theme of ‘lost’, the artists themselves have similarly used an entry point into their ideas about what it is to be lost, and that is Rebecca Solnit’s ‘A Field Guide To Getting Lost.’ Solnit, in turn, brings in Walter Benjamin’s definition of lost; as she interprets it: ‘to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.’[4] The ‘lost' in their choice of theme also refers to the period of confusion that COVID has brought. DeBoos, who has frequently worked in China, across a number of provinces, and who also for many years, has taken students, to Jingdezhen, the ancient home of porcelain, has mournfully erased Chinese motifs from many works, or at least reduced these into the background, in a process of acceptance that the world has changed and her projects with China are not as easily accessed now. For decades, DeBoos has made remarkable ceramic works, as one of Australia's great ceramicists, her experience and devotion to practice showing in well evolved pieces. Throughout Australia, DeBoos’ work is held in major public institutions, and charts an exploration of form through vessels, and of glazing techniques, from refined celadon glazes to heavily textured sgraffito and erosion techniques. Her works have often shown a characteristic patchwork of seamed pattern, featuring the imagery of Chinese decorative arts, in combination with more general mark-making and patterning. Her ceramics commonly have a bold graphic quality, frequently using a juxtaposition of bright colours and black, but not always; works like ‘Banksia Peony Qing vase’ (2014), or ‘Vase for Eucalypt Branch’ (2021) from the ‘After the Bushfires’ series have tones in keeping with a more Australian palette (influenced perhaps by her training as a botanist and interest in Aboriginal art during fieldwork trips) and with native Australian bush; and tones that are closer to those colours employed by Wendy Teakel, with whom she has worked in dialogue to form this exhibition.

The work of Teakel, like DeBoos, has also been collected and exhibited widely; Teakel was Head of Sculpture at The Australian National University for almost a decade, just as Deboos was Head of Ceramics for the University from 1998-2013. In 2020 Teakel was included in Deborah Clark's exhibition, ’20 Years of Collecting Visual Art’ at Canberra Museum and Gallery. In 2018 Beaver Galleries, Canberra showed her solo exhibition, ‘Land Trace.’ Familiarly here in this series, Teakel’s work is charged by inspiration from the landscape. Teakel says of ‘Earthbasket III’ 2020, one of her sculptural pieces —constructed of wire mesh pushed into the form of a container — that the bush is its major influence. At the lip of this basket Teakel daubs acrylic paint and makes marks with pastels, placing variations of colour from the landscape onto decorative wooden strips, that serve to fix the structure of this basket. The form is direct and simple, but the engagement complex; there is the choice of materials used in farming practice, as well as it echoing the forms of traditional Indigenous basket-making. In this way, the artist connects with the landscape, with a consciousness of pastoral history and the colonisation of Indigenous land and peoples, and she makes her art with a reverence for traditional Indigenous culture, and sorrow for Indigenous lives and traditional knowledge that have been lost, while working with the knowledge that Australian Indigenous culture is living and always evolving.

I congratulate Wendy and Janet, and Craft ACT, on Intersections presented for the launch of the 2021 Craft ACT program.

Dr Sarah Schmidt

Director, Canberra Museum and Gallery | The Nolan Collection


[1] Both at National Gallery Gallery of Victoria.

[2] At Tarrewarra Museum of Art.

[3] Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Originality of the Avant Garde’, pp.17-19, in Rosalind E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avante Garde and Other Modernist Myths, MIT Press, 1986.

[4] Solnit, R, A Field Guide To Getting Lost, Canongate Books, 2011, p.6.

Cover image: Janet DeBoos, Vase for Eucalypt Branch “After the Bushfires” series, 2021, 480mm x 210mm x 210mm
Above image: Janet DeBoos, Intersections installation view. Photo: Art Atelier