Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal drawing on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. This drawing was a finalist in the 1998 Dobell Prize for Drawing (Art Gallery of N.S.W.) ; Finalist in 1998 Blake Prize for Religious Art ; Winner of 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rookwood- Part 1 "Spirited"

I have been asked to create some paintings inspired by the Rookwood necropolis
for the exhibition "Spirited - Impressions of historic Rookwood" at the Peacock Gallery in the Auburn Botanic Gardens which will coincide with the "Hidden" exhibition at Rookwood.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood

At 700 acres, Rookwood is one of the largest burial grounds in the world and one of Australia's oldest cemeteries. Exploring its grounds can be overwhelming - a recipe for Stendhal's syndrome

clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
 And if I do get Stendhal's syndrome  I could even get as  “'crook as Rookwood”. Old fashioned  Australian slang has almost completely  "gone to Gowings" - as now Gowings has well and truly gone to Gowings for good. The saying "Crook as Rookwood" in fact has very nearly died out.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood


And at first I was completely and utterly overwhelmed. Ideally, the best course would have been to join one of the tours, but I have had little time left over after a year with a brutal exhibition schedule - 5 solo exhibitions in 6 months and many group exhibitions and commissions. The tours have not coincided with the small amount of spare time I had left.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood


So many wandering paths, so many sections, row upon row of headstones, so much ground to cover. From crisp and glossy  to sagging and neglected; which to notice and which to ignore. All seemed to deserve attention but which to choose? 
Everything beckoned, but nothing compelled. 
Lost in the city of the dead with no destination. 
I wandered at random and let chance be my guide. 

clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood

And by chance I  discovered one of the most beautiful sculptures in Australia, the Dixson Monument. I also discovered a true reason for creating a painting as not only did this sculpture commemorate a great unsung hero of  philanthropy, but one to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood


Apart from its beauty, I have personal reasons for being attracted to paint the Dixson Monument. Sir William Dixson, collector, philanthropist and connoisseur, is one of my heroes. Although he died many years before I was born, he was my benefactor.



clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
Sir William Dixson had already funded numerous charities and educational institutions throughout NSW.  When he learned that the income from David Scott Mitchell's bequest to the Public Library of New South Wales was not able to be spent on pictures, he left a generous bequest to buy historical pictures.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
I am a present day recipient of his generosity, as the Mitchell Library now has a collection of 21 of my paintings. Without Sir William Dixson's bequest , the Library may never have decided to collect paintings at all.


clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
All the other sculptures look a bit lumpen and flatfooted in comparison to the Dixson sculpture. If any sculpture deserves the title "Spirited" it must be this.


clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
It is exuberant, joyous and full of energy. The keynote is exultation rather than mourning. It conveys passion, emotion and the humanity of the moment. 
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
I know that the sculpture is not just dedicated to Sir William, but the entire Dixson family, however it is a flamboyant monument for such a shy and reserved gentleman.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood

clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
It is also an intricate and complex work. The figures are interlocked in a swirling vortex of drapery that seems to defy gravity.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
I circled it slowly for hours, looking at it from every angle and started a few tentative sketches. Finally I decided that I would need to create a rough model in clay before even attempting to paint it.
My clay model is not intended to be a sculpture, but part of the process of understanding the complexity of the original so that I can do it justice in my painting.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
This sculpture is so completely 3 dimensional. Every angle reveals another nuance.
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood
clay model by artist Jane Bennett of the Dixson Monument in Rookwood Necropolis
My clay model of the Dixson Monument, Rookwood

The closest that I can think of to emotion and virtuosity of the Dixson monument is  the work of the Baroque sculptor Bernini and I have included below a copy of his "Apollo and Daphne" for comparison. The original marble sculpture is in the Borghese Gallery, Rome.
A statue of Apollo and Daphne after Bernini at...
A statue of Apollo and Daphne after Bernini at Council Staircase in the Hermitage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)