Jenny Sages

Paths to Portraiture

Friday 24 September 2010 until Sunday 16 January 2011

The exhibition Sages examines the process of portrait making through four large-scale portraits of women by Jenny Sages, paired with intimate preparatory drawings.

True Stories - Helen Garner, 2003 by Jenny Sages
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True Stories - Helen Garner, 2003 (detail) by Jenny Sages

For Sages, drawing her ideas is as natural as speaking. Her richly varied works reflect the time she has spent walking the country; her compulsive reading; her fateful meetings; and her exploration of her own Russian background.

Jenny Sages: Paths to portraiture tracks the process of portrait-making through four portraits by senior artist Jenny Sages. The large-scale portraits are displayed with drawings that the artist made in preparation for them, as well as other artworks, objects and materials that inspired and relate to them. Most works in the exhibition are drawn from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery's Sages drawings have never before been exhibited.

Jenny Sages was born in 1933 to Russian parents in Shanghai, and grew up amidst the city's European expatriates. In her mid-teens she came with her parents to Sydney, but soon left art school there to study in New York. Having returned to Australia, for three decades she worked as an illustrator and writer of fashion and travel features for magazines such as Vogue.

At fifty, Sages made the first of many expeditions to walk in the Australian inland. Suffused with an entirely new sense of belonging to a place, she became a full-time artist.

Mostly, Sages makes abstract landscapes, scratched and gouged from encaustic wax, delicately coloured with powdered pigments. She paints a portrait perhaps once a year, but never on commission; on the contrary, when she admires a person, she will seek them out to sit for her. Since 1989 she has been an Archibald finalist eighteen times, and has won the Portia Geach Memorial Award for portraiture twice. Over the same period she has been a finalist in the Wynne Prize for landscape thirteen times, winning in 2005 with a perspective on the grassy Road to Utopia.

Subjects of the arresting portraits in Jenny Sages: Paths to portraiture are four strong senior women: painter Emily Kngwarreye, author Helen Garner, dancer Irina Baronova, and Sages herself. While the sitters are diverse, the exhibition creates a space in which the portraits speak together of the artist's experience: the time she has spent walking the country; her compulsive reading; and her exploration of her own Russian heritage.

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