This etching shows 3 ‘platonic’ shapes, shaded, set against a solid black background. Looking at it now, to me it suggests the shapes are formed out of metamorphic rock, the stark background a void. But, having looked at it for the past 48 years, I have never wanted to ascribe any meaning to it beyond itself. To me it makes a statement of absolute truth. It is a very satisfying image to look at.
30 years later Jenny returned to these basic shapes, and made a series of works using paper: arrangements of 3 each of square, circle and triangle shapes in a 3 x 3 grid, all 60 x 60 cm. The shapes were made of folded and cut paper, white on white, with many variations of the sequence.
In 2005 Jenny and I had a long conversation about her art, for almost the first time. She didn’t enjoy talking about why she did what she did, but she had asked me to help her put together a statement for her next exhibition. I asked her why she had returned to these basic shapes: where was the series going? What made her sit down to make another one?
She couldn’t answer, of course: why does any artist do what they do except at the urging of something unfathomable? So instead she tried to explain her journey towards working with such severe restrictions – only paper, only square, circle, triangle. She said that as a student she had been inspired by ‘a perspective drawing’, Uccello’s chalice. I remember that she had told me that the subject of her first cloud paintings were ‘the spaces between the clouds’. From the beginning she wanted to depict ‘unknowables’. She said: ‘as part of the system we cannot see the whole, nor the smallest particle’. Her eventual dissatisfaction with the inability to truly or fully express the unknowable in drawing or painting had led her to experiment in different media, particularly wire and mesh, and ended by her folding and cutting paper bought to draw on.
There are many different ways of looking at the Square Circle Triangle series. It connects the main theme of her still life work: natural geometry, complexity developing from simple division of basic shapes. Taken together we can appreciate the infinite possibilities of pattern and development she is exploring. But each work stands making its own simple statement of truth. And, returning to the 48 year old print where the series began, I see why Jenny was right to shy away from any simple expanation of any work of art.