Embrace by Julie Blyfield. A Record of Australias Flora

Article  /  Review   Exhibiting   HelenWyatt
Published: 23.04.2020
Helen Wyatt Helen Wyatt
Helen Wyatt
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Julie Blyfield. Brooch: Flora, 2020. Oxidised sterling silver, stg silver, enamel paint, wax.. Largest 10.3 x 8.3 x 0.7 cm. Photo by: Grant Hancock. Julie Blyfield
Brooch: Flora, 2020
Oxidised sterling silver, stg silver, enamel paint, wax.
Largest 10.3 x 8.3 x 0.7 cm
Photo by: Grant Hancock
© By the author. Read Copyright.

At a time of restraint and restricted travel, in her March-April 2020 exhibition at Stanley Street Gallery Sydney, Embrace, Julie Blyfield takes us to Purnunulu - a place of immense significance, a place that travellers outside of the Kimberley are only now coming to know about and appreciate. The Purnululu National Park holds unique geological forms and wildlife in the remote north-east of Western Australia. Now World Heritage-listed, this special place is the home of the Jaru and Gidja peoples, who are its Traditional Custodians
Despite the small size of individual pieces, her exhibition is awesome. Blyfield’s works are the result of careful observation and documentation on a grand scale. In the show, she captures the stunning colours, awesome striated forms and minutiae of the terrain. She has referenced both the ‘ephemeral’ and the ‘enduring’ in the permanence of metal objects – some that are wearable; some sculptural vessels.

Julie Blyfield, Pendant: Container, 2020, Oxidised Bi-metal copper&sterling silver, Bi-metal 22kt & sterling silver, cord, wax, Photo by Grant Hancock

At Stanley St Gallery Embrace has been curated in the main exhibition space on tabletops, on walls and shelves. The arrangement creates a journey through a landscape on an intimate scale that is both lyrical and enigmatic. Each individual work and the totality of the show combine a sense of beauty and strangeness (some even a hint of ugliness) that together are essentially sublime.

Julie Blyfield, Object: Vista, 2020, Copper, wax., Largest 17.7 x 11 x 11.2 cm, Photo by: Grant Hancock

Blyfield has used a highly expressive approach that exploits the qualities of chasing and repousse – a method of forming, texturing and a vocabulary for applying narrative that is found in European traditions and in cultures across the world. Blyfield generates intrigue for the eye and she helps us know this place through touch. Unlike traditional European chasing and repousse methods of making volume and decorating surfaces, her work has a rawness that captures an innate quality of the Purnululu landscape.
With careful restraint, colour has also been applied directly to the metal, colourised with heat or oxidized, or contrasted with the combining of different metals.

Julie Blyfield, Brooch: Kapok Flower, 2020, Oxidised silver, enamel paint, wax., Photo by Grant Hancock

As an artist, she stands among the great documenters of non-European flora Consider the 17th-century work of Maria Sybilla Merian whose eye exquisitely recorded in detail the plants of South America in coloured drawings.
Blyfield’s eye too selects the essential qualities of the seed, the branchlet and the flower.

Her work, though, also follows in a non-indigenous tradition that has recorded Australia flora since the early days of the colony but most spectacularly in the Goldfields jewellery of the mid-19th century. The contemporary jewelers - Marian Hosking, Jess Dare, Vicki Mason and Alice Whish too, study and capture the unique qualities of the Australian bush in their diverse and individual ways. Jewellery is an especially appropriate media for these observations and expressions because of its scale and subtle presence – just like its subject matter.

Julie Blyfield, Brooch: Seed, 2020, Silver, Wax, Largest 5.2 x 5.8 x 0.6 cm, Photo by Grant Hancock

Julie Blyfield, Brooch: Seed, 2020, Silver, Wax, Photo by Grant Hancock

Blyfield’s forms too, invite the viewer to want to explore the indigenous artists who have referenced the geological formations of this North-Western part of Australia for aeons. Check out the paintings of Queenie McKenzie for example.

Apart from the overall impression of the pieces grouped together, take the time to respond to the invitation Julie Blyfield’s works offer for close looking. This effort will be rewarded with the discovery of the fine details in the work- the surprise of a single gold accent in a ‘seed’ necklace; in tiny curious loops in the base of brooches. But each piece offers a point of reflection that allows for a meditation on the vast embrace of this special place.

About the author

Helen Wyatt is an Arts writer and Visual Artist who makes wearable landscapes.
She has recently completed a Masters of Visuals Arts (Research) at Griffith University (Queensland College of Art). As a writer of Visual Arts, she has had writing published in several online magazines.
These include:
Garland online magazine – interview with Peter Decker on Handshake – NZ Contemporary Jewellery Artists at Stanley Street Galleryan article on Alice Whish about her exhibition with Vicki Mason Bundanon at Craft Victoria, Melbourne.
Klimt02 – an interview with Elizabeth Shaw Recycled Narratives at Woolloongabba Art Gallery, Brisbane.
Arts Hub Australian Arts online publication – reviews of painter Mostyn Bramley-Moore at Watters Gallery, Sydney; Monash University Museum of Art and Queensland University Art Museum’s exhibition Crystals about land artist Robert Smithson; sculptor Mona Ryder Lone Star at Artisan, Brisbane; Jam Factory’s travelling exhibition of designers, artists and architects in Steel.
Helen has exhibited her contemporary jewellery nationally in Australia, and in Shanghai.  She is also a curator of her own window gallery in Sydney – F Tanner Baker Micro-Galleries, exhibiting small objects and contemporary jewellery.