If Jasmine Jan could sing (and there is no indication that she can’t) she would be a rising rock star. She has all the attributes that are required to aspire to such heights. She is young (ish), energetic, and enthusiastic about her craft. Her oriental ancestry adds to the mystery and exotic nature of her persona. She lives in a castle (some poetic licence taken here) surrounded (almost) by a moat in tropical Paradise among the flora and fauna of the NT. Even her name has the three syllabic rhyme and rhythm of a teenage chant that could well be heard chorused at Woodstock or Wembley Stadium.
We can be eternally grateful that Jasmine doesn’t sing for her supper. She paints and draws instead. But she does this with the finesse, deftness and dexterity of an Eric Clapton or Biance. And her work has the same public appeal as a Michael Buble ballad. Darwin’s music world may have its Jessica but the art world has its Jasmine.
I’ve packed my lunch and set the GPS for the drive to Jasmine’s sub-continent somewhere on the outskirts of Darwin. I know Jasmine’s work. Who doesn’t? If this is the first time you have heard of Jasmine Jan, I understand. You have probably been held captive in a prison in Iran for the past ten years. Welcome home.
I should state quite clearly at this point that I like Jasmine’s paintings. Unlike other artists I have visited over the past months, I don’t have to pre-empt my partiality to the artists work. I’m already committed. In some ways I am at an advantage because I can concentrate more on the artist although I’m still looking forward to the visual pleasure her work provides.
The GPS is indicating proximity to my destination, although I am discovering that highly sophisticated electronic devices are being surpassed by something a little more whimsical: a Wallaby greets me with a polite salute as I approach the driveway, a Frilled Neck Lizard directs me down the appropriate track, two horses are strategically placed to add artistic interest to the enveloping forest and the road ends abruptly at the edge of a billabong on which Egrets and Ibis poise for a photo opportunity. If I didn’t know better, I could suggest this was a set-up. Knowing Jasmine, I believe this just ‘happens’.
Jasmine and the dog greet me. The dog barks and I pat it hesitantly. I’m not yet convinced dogs have the intellect to know me as the friendly and harmless person I am. Jasmine and I manoeuvre through the cordialities required for the interview to begin. I have a list of questions I want to ask and I dig deep into my pockets in search of the scrap of paper on which they are written. But Jasmine has started talking already. Her garrulous and articulate nature resolves all issues around extracting information from what I have been led to believe is a shy and reserved person. I’m not convinced and Jasmine volunteers the information freely. I look for a pause to direct the conversation but decide to allow her a free reign. I’m sure we will get to cover everything before the morning is out. Any sign of reservedness is veiled with an apparent gregarious nature as she talks freely about her work and her background.
A mixture of science, drawing, the love of birds and conservation mingle with her expressions of art. As a scientific illustrator and zookeeper, Jasmine finds art a way of expressing her feelings for the wildlife she cares for and loves so much. There is accuracy and beauty in her work that is apparent but there is a strong motivation to ensure that correctness and composition blend aesthetically. She emphasises that her animals must reflect their very essence but still look good. The backdrop to her wildlife is equally truthful, if not in detail, certainly in colour.
I see Jasmine as a ‘commercial’ artist in the sense she produces a very likable product that has broad appeal. She agrees. She considers that facet of her work fortunate but not purposeful. Jasmine relates a story that confirmed with her, some time back, that her artistic integrity is firmly intact and cannot be jeopardised. In discussing the possibilities for a commission with a client, she was taken down a path that went against the grain just a bit. Content, colour and composition didn’t meet Jasmine’s criteria but for the sake of a sale, she agreed, until dragon flies where mentioned, at which point, the line in the sand was drawn. Jasmine completed the painting (without dragon flies) but reflected the anger with herself for having completed it against her own better judgement. She immediately returned home and painted the whole thing again; the way she would want it. Some weeks later the original client saw the second painting and bought it anyway. This is the point at which all artists would give rise to a resounding and supportive: ‘So, there!!’
Our conversation wanders through her history as a painter and illustrator until I ask her why she paints. There is a moment of silence and I lose eye contact for the first time in well over an hour. What I discover in the conversation that followed, is an aspect of Jasmine’s art that is far more than a superficial expression or even a deeper manifestation of her feeling for the organisms she paints. This is as much a part of her as her right arm. There is no separating Jasmine from what she does. She cannot comprehend the possibility of not painting. She reveals that painting may be the very reason why she continues to draw breath. I’m not familiar with that level of tenacity and I wonder if there has been a tenancy in the past that has brought Jasmine to this resolve.
Jasmine has ambition. Painting and an involvement in conservation is a significant part of her future. For those ambitions to be fulfilled she needs to ‘sell’ her product and, to a large extent, herself. As I have already indicated, selling herself is less of a task than she might imagine. Selling her work is even less so. Jasmine draws a crowd. Admittedly, it’s the supportive family which leads the pack. She has incredible respect for her followers and suggests that the support provided by her family is largely responsible for her popularity. I think her talent may play a prominent role but I’m also thinking I might hire the family for my next gig.
Jasmine works at her exposure. She admits that about seventy percent of her time is devoted to the commercial aspects of her work. She understands that being a fine artist isn’t necessarily enough. You can’t eat your own paintings. Exhibitions, galleries, publications and postcards are all part of the sell. This is not an ethical question to be responded to. Jasmine knows what she wants and is driven. I listen with intent. I can learn a lot here. We all could.
At the end of the discussion I wonder the ‘palace’, enjoying the paintings on the wall accompanied by a living commentary. I can’t help noticing how appealing the composition of each piece is. It is as though, along with the accuracy of representation, everything seems in the ‘right’ place. There is a dynamic about each image that enables me to linger and enjoy. A fleeting glance doesn’t seem possible. I also notice a sense of well-being coming over me. It’s the same sensation I get when I read a book with a nice ending or have just completed a good meal. No wonder Jasmine’s work has such public appeal. It makes you feel good.
I want to hold onto that feeling for a while. I take a last, long look at the egrets and cockatoos and head back home. The subjects for Jasmine’s palette watch me from the paperbarks lining the billabong at the edge of the forest. There’s enough inspiration to keep Jasmine busy for some time. Foundations for a gallery are in progress, inspired by the view and a competitive streak. There are many reasons for me to return. And I still have my list. The Wallaby sees me through the forest and I give a nod to the Frilled Neck to close the gate behind me. The GPS screams into action and I’m on my way, wondering if a shower of tourists will disturb the tranquillity too much.