Reed shaking and stone hugging

Jane Hylton and Rob Hylton: Saving Face: imagined and real facades

South Australia does flatness very well. Okay, we do have the Flinders and the Mt Lofty Ranges, but if you want to cozy up to the greater part of South Australia you have to assume the horizontal position. Now, South Australia doesn’t get much flatter than the land of the lower Murray. Two artists, Jane Hylton and Rob Hylton, have lived there for almost 20 years, at Clayton Bay, in the heart of the Alexandrina wetlands and waterways. They fell under its spell in their youth and now exercise their passion for the natural and built heritage of the area by making art inspired by it. Jane Hylton’s perspectives on the area are informed by a lifetime of research, writing about and curating colonial to modern eras of South Australian art. Her pictorial work has much in common with illustrations made by colonial explorers, naturalists, maritime artists and gifted enthusiasts such as W.A. Cawthorne (who did describe the area as a “wild and desolate place”). Hylton has occasionally embedded extracts from explorer and travellers’ diaries in her pictures. She says that of all the artists who have worked in the Fleurieu/Lower Lakes area, she considers the colonials to be kindred spirits. Like many early travellers eager to record impressions for city folk, her eyes fall on small details, like the way grasses bend, the completeness of a bird’s nest, the detail of a single feather, skulls of small creatures, shells and animal tracks in wet sand. The strategy of overlaying one detail on another, and sometimes over early engravings of local birds and the like, sets up a finely calibrated conversation between the not so distant past and the present. Other images created by directly drawing or inscribing show a different kind of eye and imagination at work. They seductively communicate private moments of discovery and wonder. The artist says that she “cannot resist picking up the detritus of the natural world… These are more precious to me that any jewels”. Other landscapes resemble charts used by riverboat captains with their serialised strips of shorelines. They speak of the flatness that characterises this landscape and of the “huge skies”, as Hylton describes them, that dominate everything. Nest-Jane-Hylton Rob Hylton once worked as an exhibition designer (SA Museum and Constitutional Museum) and has a lifelong passion for building and sailing wooden boats. His roving eye can’t go past the facades of old buildings, in the Lower Lakes area and elsewhere. The experience of building architectural models for museum display instilled the idea of making some of his own – a mix of actual with the fanciful. His current interests lie principally in Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. Working initially with clay he creates ‘master’ facades which then allow him to cast a ‘negative’ then ‘positive’ replica in plaster of the original design. From here the plaster is further detailed to achieve a desired result. To-scale light fittings and other items are occasionally added. Hylton describes these little effigies as “3D cut-and- pastes” of building styles he enjoys. These intriguing works look to be channeling the model houses and theatres that Victorian era children so loved to play with. They are items to be appreciated at close quarters for their attention to detail and delight in exchanges of brick, stone, timber and roofing designs and patterning. The artist says that if viewers could be led by the experience to look more attentively to the old buildings around them and to support saving them, he would be gratified. Plumbing-Rob-Hylton Beyond this, there is another level of reading which leads to the appreciation of ruins, which is enjoying a lot of currency at the moment among younger contemporary artists. A hint that Rob Hylton is aware of wider contexts for his art can be found in his reprise of the well-known heritage building, Bell’s Plumber’s Shop on Payenham Road. Graffiti painted by the artist onto the artwork (based on actual graffiti on the building) is a reminder that if stones can’t cry out for mercy someone has to do it for them. While at Goolwa, seeing this show, just hug a stone wall and see how better you’ll feel.   Jane Hylton and Rob Hylton Saving Face: Imagined and real facades South Coast Regional Art Centre (Old Goolwa Police Station) Friday, September 4 to Sunday, October 4

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