Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

JENNY SAGES: Paths to Portraiture @ TRAG

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A travelling exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery

Christine Clark presenting a floor talk – ‘Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture’

A painted portrait, to be authentic, must be more than a visual transcription of the subject. A couple of years ago Christopher Allen, in writing a review of a photographic portraiture exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery made the statement that ‘humans are not ultimately machine-readable’. (Allen 2010) He claims that portraits by any group of ‘reasonably able’ painters do the task of portraiture much better than photographers as,  ‘Every mark is significant, and records something seen and felt; intellect and intuition are one and become simultaneous with making.’

In encountering Jenny Sages’ Paths to Portraiture exhibition at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery Allen’s dictum is profoundly proved. The portrait works are layered with an expression of the artist’s relationship with the subject – Sages needs to develop a friendship with the subject, to share the space and moment and the ‘other’ sense-stuff that makes a portrait more than a likeness.

The exhibition Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture was curated by Christine Clark, Manager of Exhibitions from the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. The show’s premise was to present more than a collection of Sages’ portrait work, but as the title of the show alludes to – the path the artist takes in making a portrait. Included with the finished portraits are reference drawings, ephemera, and objects referential to the subject that informed the painted portrait. For the student of painting and for members of the public who wish to understand more of the artist’s process these elements provide an insight that is not usually part of the experience we have of finished artworks.

Christine Clark talking about Sages’ work

To compliment the exhibition Christine Clark presented a floor talk on the exhibition for around forty attendees from the Toowoomba art scene. Clark’s talk provided special insights into Sages’ background and the story of the paintings. She linked these stories with the displayed preliminary sketches, drawings and other objects making the experience of the art and Sages’ process rich and alive. Clark, through her enthusiasm for the artwork and her expressive gesture and discussion, took all present at the floor talk to a higher understanding and respect for the work before them. Thank you to the NPG, TRAG, Christine Clark and Jenny Sages for the opportunity to see and hear about this artist’s work in portraiture.


Doug Spowart  20 May 2012


Allen, C 2010, ‘Through a lens darkly’, The Australian, July 3, p. 11-2.


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