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Australian art

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Classic Black 8



Jenny Watson


1951 -


In her own words, Jenny Watson’s pictures are ‘urgent passionate spare necessary psychological simple’.1 The urgency comes from her desire to explore imagery drawn from interior demands, fears and fantasies. It has led to recurring subject matter: the woman, the cat, the horse, the bottle, the house. These elements tell stories about the self but are not completed narratives. The stories, with their roots in the unconscious mind, break up into fragments in an illogical but compelling way.

The end result is a combination of naivety and sophistication (not an easy thing to do), as well as vulnerability and defiance, power and powerlessness, qualities Watson sees as part of the struggle to be validated as a woman artist in the context of modernist ideals (over 30 years of modernism’s scorched-earth strategy of abstraction wasn’t favourable to Watson’s kind of figurative work). Her sketchy application of paint – often on coarse fabric cut directly from a roll, red velvet, taffeta, even horse feed bags and as in this case, found printed paper – has an expressive reticence that seems to mirror the effect of figures in dreams. But this use of poor-quality materials and challenge to conventional technique also suits Watson’s pop-critical attitude to high art preciousness.

‘Classic Black 1-10’ is a lexicon and grammar of Watson’s imagery from the last 30 years. The classic fashion statement implied in the title connects this back into her every day world of dressing up, riding horses, having drinks with friends, dating men, being an artist and fearing growing old. The figures often look like Watson and are drawn from her personal world and in this sense are diaristic, but at the same time her simple and accessible imagery speaks to an ‘every woman’ as it embodies desires, aspirations and anxieties.

George Alexander & Wayne Tunnicliffe

1. Jenny Watson, artist’s statement in ‘ICI Contemporary Art Collection’, Melbourne 1989, p 84


Other Title

Classic Black 8: bird



Media category


Materials used

synthetic polymer paint on Italian nursery paper


90.0 x 69.0 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed l.l. sheet, orange paint "JW". Dated l.r. sheet, orange paint "2010".


Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2010


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Jenny Watson

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history