Jane Bennett is the recipient of the 2011 President’s Medal

On Saturday 10 December 2011 I had another good look around the Mosman Exhibition to decide on the recipient of the President’s Medal.

As all of the works on display are of such high standard, it was difficult to judge in the manner of a person who is remote from the ASMA or not familiar with the exhibitors’ work. I have an advantage in that I am getting to know most of our members’ work and with it, what drives and inspires them.

I shun many of the conventions and yardsticks used by career judges to justify their choices. There is no way an excellent portrayal of a contemporary yachting scene can be compared with an equally excellent portrayal of the Battle of Trafalgar. If I relied on the hackneyed vocabulary of the art world to support my findings, I would get my moods, forms, tones, shapes and balances all mixed up and I would be unable to distinguish between the bold, sensitive, imaginative and evocative. One must look beyond the canvas!

The recipient this year is Jane Bennett.

Her painting of the ex-RAN frigate HMAS Adelaide, alongside the decommissioning wharf at Pyrmont, only partly led me to this decision. The ship is having her entrails wrenched from her belly, prior to taking up her next duty as a dive wreck off Avoca. This one ‘went beyond the canvas’ and reminded me of the great substance in Jane’s portfolio.

HMAS Adelaide being prepared for scuttling − Jane Bennett

Much of my decision was based on Jane’s interpretation of marine art, plus my own knowledge of how Jane goes about choosing and getting her subject on to canvas. Jane is the quintessential plein air painter. Her mission has been to paint our past industrial waterfronts before they are sanitised by miles of waterfront condominiums. In doing so, she is leaving an important historical record of the ‘way we were’ and how commerce and industry was entwined with the waterways of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.

She can paint in the most difficult and challenging situations, whether it is at the Sydney Wooden Boat show, surrounded by gawking, Sunday sightseers or atop one of the 100 metre towers of the Anzac Bridge. She finds her way into disused railway buildings and power stations.

She has managed to convince the strict waterfront authorities at Port Botany, that she be allowed to trespass on Union controlled territory to record her impressions of the man’s world of this container complex, via a 15 page OH&S questionnaire; one question required information about the toxicity of her paint! Her tenacity (or woman’s persistence) allowed her to navigate through numerous levels of rejection before she was allowed on this hallowed territory.

She would have at times experienced the unwelcome audience of demolition workers, wharfies and fork truck drivers. The shadow of containers being manoeuvred has no doubt interrupted the view of her subjects and the dust from these environments has settled on her wet canvasses, giving them a unique originality.

Congratulations Jane!