Australian Art

JENNY KAYE PHILLIPS

Jenny Phillips
Jenny Phillips

AKA: Jenny Goode

Born: 1949 Boort
  • Painter


Driving towards Kyneton from Bendigo one is always prepared for a drop in temperature and rain. The day I interviewed Jenny Phillips was no exception; it was bleak and just confirmed my dislike for all those Victorian towns that sit huddled on the southern slopes of the Great Divide. As I turned into the drive of the Phillips property the windswept hills were transformed into something akin to an English country estate. Seventeen years of mounding, mulching, fertilising and sheer hard labour on Jenny's part were responsible for the transformation. Planted throughout the several acres are the most wonderful flowers and plants that now grace her paintings.

Jenny is the youngest child and only daughter of Rosslyn Amor Goode (Ross) and Dulcie Jean Sexton. She has two older brothers, Rod and Peter. Ross was a bank manager resulting in the family moving frequently. When Jenny was about 18 months old the family moved to Maryborough and two years later moved to Swan Hill. Jenny began her primary schooling there and vividly recalls a teacher by the name of Ross Mellor. He realised her potential and gave her every encouragement. The family also befriended Leo and Bea Cohn (Leo was Ola Cohn's brother). The Cohns were collectors of art and, perceiving Jenny's interest, they nurtured accordingly, showing her books and explaining the collection. To her they were surrogate grandparents and have a special place in her heart. "I think so much about them; deep down when you have a feeling from the time you are a child you want to be something. Anyone who you feel identifies with that feeling is special." Both the Cohns and the Goodes moved to Bendigo and the friendship became a lifelong association.

Jenny completed her primary schooling at Quarry Hill. She began her secondary schooling at Golden Square High School when it was initially based on Camp Hill but moved to the actual site in Golden Square shortly afterwards. During her school years she entered many painting and colouring competitions winning numerous prizes, the memorable one being a set of Windsor and Newton watercolour paints. She also won a Bendigo Art Gallery sponsored prize. Her grandmother would occasionally tell her "Well, there are artists on Ross's side of the family" The significance of which Jenny did not realise until she moved to Castlemaine. The family moved to Creswick and Jenny travelled to Ballarat East High on the daily bus. Upon completion of Form Four the family again moved to Castlemaine. It was at Castlemaine High that Jenny was happiest. The school had a relatively small population and was well managed by a Mr Kavanagh and the Vice Principal Helen Green. Helen left a lasting impression. "She was the first person in my life I was consciously aware of meeting who had a professional position and her husband was at home painting and apart from that she was a wonderful woman, absolutely understanding of teenagers. (Helen Green later became Deputy Director of the Bendigo Region) Indeed, a remarkable woman. Jenny's art teacher was Pauline Pethick and she inspired Jenny for the next two years.

It was during a visit to the Castlemaine Art Gallery that she was reminded of a distant aunt, Alice Bale. When Jenny was about three or four she had met Alice, but the family was not a close family and they didn't keep in touch with that side of the family. Alice Bale's father and Jenny's great grandmother were brother and sister. Jenny wanted to go on to do either an arts extension course or fine arts at the university but her parents denied permission stating that she would probably get married anyway. Instead she went on the Bendigo Teachers College (1967-68). She was struck by the quality of the Bendigo Teachers College art collection and to this day believes it to be a collection of great worthiness. She purchased a 1927 Pontiac and kept it housed in a garage in Maldon where she spent every weekend restoring it. She also exhibited some of her art works at the then Annual Maldon Easter Exhibition. Jenny Phillips and her Pontiac were the topic of conversation for many years. In 1969 she taught at Gisborne Primary School. During the year she met Ronald Kenneth Phillips, a farmer and real estate agent. It was a whirlwind romance and they were married at the end of the year with the wedding party using the Cohn house in Bendigo to leave from. She had, during that year, experimented with portraits on velvet, which she now shudders about, although admitting to learning aspects of light and shade. They did earn her $5 each, keeping her in pocket money.

Jenny taught at the Kyneton Primary School in 1970 and in early 1971 Megan was born. Not long after the birth Jenny was doing a botanical painting when Ron arrived home and stated that perhaps her painting should wait till the children were older. She agreed and put her paints away. She picked them up again in earnest when her second child, Murray, a son, started school in 1978. Though in the meantime having become a voluntary guide at the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. She had also turned her hand to doing up furniture. She could turn wood, upholster, renovate and her piece de resistance was the restoration of a bluestone cottage on their property.

She tackled her painting with a vengeance, teaching herself to illustrate in magnificent detail. She had enough works to co-jointly have an exhibition with Jess Manifold (from Mt Macedon) at the Murphy Street Print Room in South Yarra (1978). Allan McCulloch, the art writer for The Herald, commenting, "Jenny Phillips botanical studies in watercolour are done with the kind of devotion reserved for subjects well understood and loved. The flowers are depicted with the care that denotes a harmonious blending of science with art."

Jenny is a regular exhibitor with the Wildlife Art Society of Australasia (WASA). She is described as a very gifted teacher by her students and peers at the herbarium where, until recently, she took classes. She also took private classes.

In 1984 Tom Garnett's book "Stumbling on Melons" was published and was illustrated by Jenny, as also his other book "A Gardeners Pot Pourri". In 1986 she and Colin Woolcock had a joint exhibition at the National Herbarium of Victoria. In 1987 three of her prints the "Potato", "Tomato" and "Green Helleborne" won the Gold Medal at the National Print Award. In November 1988 she had a solo exhibition of botanical watercolours at the Joshua McClelland Print Room in Collins Street, Melbourne. In 1989 she tried her hand at etching at the Brunswick Street, Fitzroy studios which is in the same building as the Port Jackson Press who retailed her etchings. In 1991 she was awarded the coveted prize of best watercolour for a painting of a waratah at the WASA Annual Exhibition.

Although Jenny receives acclaim at her exhibitions she feels far more at home with commissions. Accusations of not being a real artist leaves her amused. She showed me an array of her works as well as a series of slides. She is absolutely absorbed in her work describing her subject matter as sculptural. She is fascinated by light and shadow and has an almost eccentric passion for her subject matter - plants.
Her trip to Europe may moderate that.

Jenny has recently left Kyneton and has gone indefinitely to Europe, basing herself with friends in France. She wants to absorb European art, visit the galleries. learn traditional painting 'like the Dutch masters', or "just paint for myself. I feel I have been owned by somebody for too long and I just want to go with the flow a bit. I'm not committing myself to doing anyone thing, though I would like to do portraits. I'm fascinated by faces; I have to learn about that. I just want to work on my art."

Jenny is a finely built lady with a warm and gracious personality and it is a bit of an enigma that she can, on the one hand do the most delicate and intricate botanical watercolours that knock you out with their sheer beauty, while on the other, is capable of the hardest physical labour and doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. Jenny is about to undergo yet another learning curve. It will be interesting to see what evolves from Europe.

Source: Interview by Willi Carney June 25, 1992



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