Bradley Vincent on Jenny Watson’s A Painted Page: Myer Christmas Catalogue.

16 Sep 2020

Bradley Vincent on Jenny Watson’s A Painted Page: Myer Christmas Catalogue

As we continue taking a look at some of our favourite works in the City Collection, HOTA Curator Bradley Vincent tells us why he loves Jenny Watson’s oil painting, A Painted Page: Myer Christmas Catalogue.

‘I love Jenny Watson’s paintings. They are memory-laden and feel incredibly personal. To go through her practice is to go on a very particular journey.  This work is a painting of a page from a familiar-looking Myer Christmas Catalogue. It is painted in thick, impasto oil paint, a medium often reserved for lush landscapes or intricate still life. I love that it used here instead to capture, beautifully, a cheaply printed Christmas catalogue.

‘This painting feels so contemporary to me. The fact that it dates from the 70s was a genuine surprise when I first saw it in the HOTA Collection.

‘It was originally exhibited as one of a group of six paintings in the “A Painted Page” series. Other ‘painted pages’ included a Melbourne newspaper page and an image of Twiggy, as photographed by Richard Avedon, from a fashion magazine. As a group of paintings, the series presented a portrait of a particular time and place, of cosmopolitan Melbourne in the late 1970s.

‘Taken individually the painting asks us more specific questions. Watson’s paintings have always featured female protagonists, most often the artist herself. Gender is central to her work. It’s no accident that this chosen painted catalogue page is one that is divided into ‘boy’s toys’ (race cars and trucks) on one side and ‘girl’s toys’ (dolls and prams) – showing still all-too-present anachronism that breaks down the world along simplified gender lines.

‘I love the fact that Watson chose to paint this particular image with this thick, impasto technique. That in doing so she was herself playing with ‘boys’ toys’, with the painterly-est of painting techniques. But, instead of romanticism, instead of rolling pastures or starry nights, she has given us camp and complexity in spades. And humour, too. She does it better than the boys ever could, I’d wager.

‘If you like this work you might like…… a whole school of artists that have me falling in love with American painting all over again. Check out Dike Blair and Ann Craven (who both show with incredibly good and timely Karma Gallery, New York) and the incomparable Alex Katz who has spent a lifetime in paint that, for mine, few can come close to,’ he said.


Image credit: Jenny Watson, A Painted Page: Myer Christmas Catalogue, 1979, oil on canvas. Acquired from the Gold Coast Art Prize 1981. © Image courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. ⁠