First cut is always the deepest

Feb. 13, 2015, 9 p.m. Newcastle Herald

Collaborations between an artist and an agronomist are the kind of thing we expect to see in contemporary art, but it's less common to find agronomists who are artists. Penny Dunstan is that rare compound, and has produced several strong exhibitions in Newcastle that take up environmental issues through poetic use of material. Mapping The Geological pushes her large-scale "crumpled" Ho Sho paper drawing/installation which showed on a smaller scale at the University Gallery last year. Now commanding the long wall at Curve Gallery, Pastpresent brings together Dunstan's intimate knowledge of the Mt Arthur region near Muswellbrook, part of her PhD research that questions our children's inheritance of so-called "rehabilitated" land after open-cut mining has taken place. A look at the violently disturbed topography of her drawing is a strong metaphor indeed.


While we read about the health impact on residents in the Upper Hunter due to mining - as well as the important economic benefits - Dunstan's small oil paintings of mine sites and mining-affected landscape can't help being beautiful: sublime in character, full of air and evocative colour, they are the kind of intimate studies that make me glad people still paint landscape as if it hasn't been done before.


STRONG METAPHOR: Penelope Dunstan’s Pastpresent installation at Curve Gallery in Newcastle questions so-called ‘‘rehabilitated’’ land.


Review of In a Country Once Forested

by JILL STOWELL, May 24, 2013, Newcastle Herald


The Adamstown Uniting Church is embarking on a series of art exhibitions, many to make specific use of spaces in the church itself.

Penny Dunstan, in the inaugural exhibition, is showing photographs and augmented photographs that invoke the power of the natural world. Its humble, frequently unrecognised strength is brought to life in the church's former porch in a wall of flowering grasses. The use of the venerable Van Dyke process of sepia photographic stencils indicates the persistence as well as the fragility of this most basic form of ground cover, while digital images of Adamstown houses reference the constant suburban battle to keep grass at bay.

Grass and other encroaching vegetation is also the force behind a symmetrical group of works at the rear of the church.

Rephotographed digital images play variations on the basic still life table setting, almost obliterated by the power of nature. These are finely conceived works, prodding the viewer into discovering layers of meaning, given increased relevance by their hanging, until June 8, in an active church setting.


Earth Bowl, 2013


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