This painting is quite unlike any other oil painting of Jenny’s. It’s not a Still Life, and it has a title: ‘Earth, Moon, Tree’, which later she changed to ‘Earth Story’. It is possibly the first oil painting to which she did give a name.
The central image, a tree in full leaf, isolated in a landscape, is very similar in form to print made 10 years before. In that earlier work, below, the tree is in the centre of a strange landscape, one bleached of light, and possibly of life. A pale moon is just visible to the left of the tree. Is it simply the end of the day when fading light plays tricks with the eyes, or is the tree a survivor in a barren world following some unknown disaster?
The oil painting also is mysterious. Like many artists of her generation Jenny was loathe both to talk about her painting or to assign to it a meaning: she felt a work of art should speak for itself with no intervening explanation. But she and her friends often talked about Earth Story, which she kept in her flat and never put up for sale. For some it had a feeling of deep peace and harmony in nature, while others felt some hidden menace. Part of the painting’s mystery comes from the overlay of dense mesh and points of light. Is this referencing internal structures or could it represent external, and threatening, forces? Jenny herself accepted both as valid reactions to the work.
I don’t think it’s right to look for one meaning in any work of art, but it’s useful to consider its context in time and its place in the artist’s own development.When she painted it, in the early 1980s, possibly 1981, Jenny was actively engaged in local protests and politics. It was the time of Greenham Common, the Miners’ strike, worries about missile wars and the beginning of more widespread awareness of other risks to the environment. If it is meant to reflect contemporary concerns it would be the only oil painting by Jenny with such an explicit message – but of course such concerns could have influenced her subconsciously.
Jenny’s Still Life Art is an examination of matter and existence, where the appearance of objects and natural forms is juxtaposed against the reality of their molecular structures. Before 1986 her usual subject for oil painting was clouds. From 1990 onwards her oils exclusively became arrangements of pots. It may seem hard to see any continuity from clouds to pots with a tree in between. The link is Jenny’s life long fascination with the hidden structures of the universe: what is between the clouds, what holds the pots together? The coloured mesh both covers the tree and binds the whole: the frame, the earth, the tree, the sky. Does it signify a subconscious dread of threats to Earth, or is it wonder at how light is received and perceived by eye and brain?
The painting’s original title was ‘Earth, Moon Tree’: she later changed the title to ‘Earth Story’. This may be a clue to her final thoughts on it – it is also the title she gave to the assemblage below.
It is possible to read too much into any art work one looks at for a long time. But to me this small assemblage could really be telling a story. It could be a pictogram , reading from bottom right to top left. It could be showing the development of life from fundamental particles (square, circle, triangle), stones, minerals, ammonites. birds, trees, to the final piece of plastic in the top left segment. And looking then back at the oil Earth Story, is that a comet coming in from the top right among particles of atmosphere, or pollution or space junk? And if so were these messages intended or subconscious? Another question I never asked.