Jaclyn Conley - Castles in the Air

Opening: 5 Sep 2024

5 Sep 2024 – 19 Oct 2024

Regular hours

11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00

Free admission

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“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden


In her new body of work, Jaclyn Conley stages visions of life in landscape, which are at once vast and intimate. Known for her masterful portrayals of the figure, the artist here bends the depth and scale in the composition, giving the setting comparable deliberation and prominence. In each painting, Conley layers references to iconic images from art history with archival photographs documenting the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 70s in America, to consider the notion of social progress, and the possibilities of turning to the landscape as a strategy of resistance.

Influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, the back-to-the-land movement garnered particular momentum in the late 1960s in Vermont against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Vietnam, escalating consumerism and perceived urban deterioration. Striving for self-sufficiency and independence from the corporate system, numerous enthusiasts of the movement sought a refuge in the land, leaving behind extensive accounts and photographs of communal life at the time. Unearthing the histories of the movement from relative invisibility, Conley ponders the efficacy of individual ambitions for a different way of life. She explains, “the early protests for environmental causes and movements towards autonomy were not going to be an easy or necessarily rational path, and yet, at least from our vantage point, it seems like there was the courage to do it anyway. I think it could be useful today to have that humility to strive for big things, even though they seem very unlikely.” Referencing a quote from Thoreau’s landmark treatise Walden, the title of the exhibition considers the importance of following one’s earnest and even idealist beliefs.

Similar to the paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which Conley often references in this series, her protagonists are rarely united by a single narrative. Instead, there is a sense of multiplicity in the figures and the composition, as if mimicking the evolving order of natural change and seasons. In Summer, the figures are enveloped by impasto brushstrokes, which seem to have their own acoustics. Almost evoking the sound of rustling leaves or beating birds’ wings, Conley’s handling of paint here and use of colour emphasises the connection of people with their surroundings.

Intermingling fluid marks with the hard edges of the figures, the works in the series reference the language of collage, in part alluding to Conley’s diverse visual sources. In Soldiers at Rest, which pays homage to Bruegel’s eponymous work, the image of passage in the landscape is complicated by superimposed pictorial planes cutting across the composition. Some of the figures advancing towards the horizon appear cut out from the image, as if resisting being bound to a single time and place, suggesting questions about the universality of human aspirations.

Exhibiting artistsToggle

Jaclyn Conley


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