Obituary: Joan Brassil 1919- 2005

Joan Brassil was a late starter to investigative art practice, but she more than made up for lost time. While I never had the pleasure of collaborating with her, she had a longstanding collaborative practice of great distinction. Many who worked with her, the sound artists, musicians, dancers, scientists, filmmakers and other visual artists can attest to her gifts as a collaborator.

Her contributions to the whole fabric of cultural practice in Australia were multiple and varied. She was particularly supportive of emerging artists and women in the arts. Her practice was a great inspiration to countless young creative people. One of my great pleasures was to sit facing an audience of super cool young art students when Joan Brassil got up to speak about her work… You could almost read their minds, ‘Here come the flower paintings’… As she spoke, there was a pattern of recognition that began with disbelief and ended with uncool admiration.

For me, the most wonderful thing about Joan’s practice was that she shamelessly took her process right into the gallery when she was setting up an installation…This infused the work with a tremendous sense of the immediate, partly because of the risks of being creative in the here and now. As she collaborated with each person associated with the installation, they exchanged sensibilities, skills, humour and life experiences and the result was a unique poetic experience shared between them in the special time and place that is an installation in an art setting.

She responded to these unforseen, often serendipitous, encounters by improvising with them, which only the bravest and truest souls undertake because of the intensity and rigours of this kind of exposure. She was often totally depleted after putting up a work, because she often gave more than her body had in reserve. But after a few days rest, she was up and dreaming the next work. She revealed much of herself in her works, abstractly and poetically, bared for all to experience. And the response to her works matched her level of sensitivity and revelation.

Joan Brassil was a great storyteller. She once told me a story that over the years has become the abiding image of her spirit. She was out camping with her two young sons. They were staying on a bush property and sleeping under the stars on cots or in swags. She said the old bushy who was their host woke early and sprinkled food for native birds all around the sleeping Joan. At dawn, the birds began to feed, to fly in and out, surrounding her as she awoke. I have always thought that the bushman truly understood Joan’s spirit and her inquiring mind. At the same time that she was entranced by the beauty of native fauna she so loved and celebrated in her art works, she was no doubt thinking of the vortices in the air caused by wing movements and the aerodynamic lift of birds.

Our colleague and friend is gone now, we have only our memories of her. But our mentor lives on in the legacy of her works. We have the practice to continue to inspire us beyond ourselves. She lived the latter part of her life almost exclusively for art, she LOVED art (and frequently said just that).

Joan Grounds

Our thanks to Joan Grounds for providing at short notice this excerpt from her tribute to Joan Brassil which she delivered among many others who spoke about the artist’s life and work at the memorial gathering, Campbelltown Art Gallery, April 30.

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 44

© Joan Grounds; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2005