Artist profile: John Whitney

Bridges may be the most invisible form of public architecture.

Each day we cross bridges as we commute to work or school, visit family and friends, going about our daily lives. We take their presence for granted, never stopping to think how life would be different without them.

Gallery 1855’s current exhibition No Bridge Too Far depicts the architectural and engineering aspects of South Australian bridges, with works by Adelaide artists James Parker and John Whitney.

Using pen and ink, encaustic painting, digital imaging printmaking and installation, they explore the bridge as a landmark and anchor for identity of self and place.

James says “When I was young I assumed that if someone didn’t grow up right next to a bridge, then they longed to. I still believe that.”


 

John Whitney is a well-known and highly regarded visual artist who has been working with South Australian schools and communities over many years.

He started his working life as a secondary visual arts educator. After a number of years teaching he has dedicated his talent and skill to continuing his work with school students but as a professional visual artist.

John won the Education and Arts Ministers’ Award for his work as an artist working in schools in 2003, and has also won a number of Art awards and prizes over the years.

He has been a core artist working for Carclew’s Arts & Education Program in Artists in Schools, Arts Blast, Cargo and Creative Education Partnership Artist in Residence projects (AiR). John was one of two lead artists for Carclew’s AiR project in Murray Bridge in 2010, which went on to win an international award from The Campaign for Drawing (U.K.).

John’s work is not limited to schools, as he is also in high demand for Adelaide’s annual WOMAdelaide, Adelaide Fringe and Festival. He also contributes his time and skills to working with communities and Councils both in metro Adelaide and regionally.

We caught up with John to ask more questions about No Bridge Too Far:

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James Parker and John Whitney at the opening of ‘No Bridge Too Far’

 

Your joint exhibition at Gallery 1855, ‘No Bridge Too Far’ depicts the architectural and engineering aspects of South Australian bridges. How did this idea come about?

Through Carclew I was teamed up with James and we have worked on several successful drawing projects, Come Out activities and other workshops in schools for the last nine years.

Following my stroke in 2014, as part of rehab James suggested working towards an exhibition together on the topic “Bridges of South Australia”…… why bridges you can ask James more on that part!

So for the past two years, armed with sketchbooks and cameras we’ve traveled the state in James’ van discovering and capturing bridges.

Why bridges?

For me I like the physical presence of a bridge; its structure, the material it’s made of, as well as the practical nature of safely crossing something.  It is also a time capsule ……. often the remains of previous bridges stand beside the current ones, and locals have tales to tell of their bridge. I lived in Murray Bridge for four years and those bridges were certainly the main landmark.

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John Whitney, The Children’s Bridge, Strathalbyn
2016
30 x 20cm

 

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John Whitney, The Old Bridge Mitcham
Colour pencil on Fabriano paper 300gsm
2015
30 x 40cm.

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John Whitney, The old footbridge, Oakbank
2016, 20x30cm.

 

You have worked in several South Australian schools, as a teacher and as an artist-in-residence. How did you come to find your preferred visual arts medium?

Drawing has always been my main area of interest in the Visual Arts as it’s important not only in the arts but right across our lives.  It designs, explains and records much of our activities. It’s transportable and can have so many presentations from a scribble to photo realism.…… I’ve always drawn.

I trained as an Art Teacher and taught in country and city schools for eleven years. I then resigned but got invited back into schools as an artist. That was thirty years ago. Since then I have worked constantly in schools doing murals, hebel carving, drawing workshops, painted poles – all over the state.

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John Whitney, The culvert near Burra,
2016
30 x 20cm

 

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James Parker, Port Wakefield River,
2016
Encaustic on board

 

 

 

 

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James Parker, Bruce,
2016
Digital image

Where do you take inspiration from?

 

I get inspiration from the world around me …….  physical objects, landscapes, buildings and structures more than the human figure. I enjoy recording the detail of the world around us; I always have a sketchbook or journal handy as well as a camera. Themes and topics develop over time which often evolve to be an exhibition or a series of drawings.

 

No Bridge Too Far is on display from 10 May – 10 June 2017 at Gallery 1855.

 

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