Trying to Live Now: Chronotopic Figures in Jenny Watson’s A Painted Page Series
Between late 1979 and early 1980, Australian artist Jenny Watson painted a sequence of six works, each with the title A Painted Page. Combining gridded, painted reproductions of photographs, newspapers and department store catalogues with roughly painted fields of color, the series brought together a range of recent styles and painterly idioms: pop, photorealism, and non-objective abstraction. Watson’s evocation of styles considered dated, corrupted or redundant by contemporary critics was read as a sign of the decline of modernism and the emergence of a postmodernism inflected with irony and a cool, “new wave” sensibility. An examination of the Painted Pages in the context of Watson’s interest in autobiography and her association with the women’s art movement, however, reveals the works to be subjective, highly personal reflections on memory, self and artistic aspiration. Drawing on Bahktin’s model of the chronotope, this paper argues for a spatio-temporal reading of Watson’s Painted Pages rather than the crude model of stylistic redundancy and succession. Watson’s source images register temporal orders ranging across the daily, the seasonal and the epochal. Her paintings transpose Bahktin’s typology of quotidian, provincial and “adventuristic” time into autobiographical paintings of teenage memories, the vicissitudes of the art world and punk subcultures. Collectively, the Painted Pages established a chronotopic field; neither an aggregation of moments nor a collaged evocation of a period but a point at which Watson closed off one kind of time (an art critical time of currency and succession) and opened up another (of subjectivity and affective experience).
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