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This section is a work in progress. Below is the words from Nic Brown's beautifully written Catalogue Essay for The Collections Project with Flinders Art Museum 2017.The real thing, complete with images, can be found at

The Collections Project

Fran Callen

written by Nic Brown

It is the middle of winter and a dirty white

blanket of cloud wraps the sky. Like a small

child’s well-loved comforter, the blanket is

worn but still soft, and warms the treetops in

the neighbourhood, tempering them while a

storm begins its low hum. The anchor point of

my view is a mature eucalyptus camaldulensis,

or river red gum, a lone tree in the front yard.

Many were felled for agricultural and housing

developments in the local area from the mid-

nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively.

Down the road and along the creek in the lower

reaches of my suburb, the numbers of river

red gum proliferate. Grouped like families,

their roots precariously hug the slippery banks,

and each other, as they compete with fences,

swimming pools and invasive weeds including

the European olive. The creek flows west toward

the eastern facing slope, where up on the ridge

is the home and studio of artist Fran Callen.

At the heart of Callen’s studio-home

is a small, pine, kitchen table, where family

and friends gather for shared meals, drinks,

conversation and company. It is often covered

by a tablecloth of sorts: a large primed canvas,

which, like a forest floor, collects the debris of

Callen’s daily life. Small, often mundane moments

drip onto and emerge out from the canvas. Time

is captured in the form of spilt drinks, or tracings

of place settings of the previous night’s dinner,

or ‘to do’ lists, or sketches and names of native

flowers, seedpods and leaves collected by

Callen and her children during neighbourhood

walks and visits to the Flinders University

Investigator Garden. Together these fluids,

drawings and inscriptions transform, like humus,

into an entanglement of memories embedded

in the canvas-substrate. It is here that Callen

navigates – through personal experience as well

as research into this country’s colonial history of

collecting and discovery – the complexities of care

and custodianship in relation to her family, home,

and community where she resides on Kaurna land.

As a means to tame the unpredictable

nature of her artistic process and studio

environment, for The Collections Project,

Callen applies identical rules to each ‘tabletop

canvas’. The rules act as a framework for which

the routines, repetition and messiness of her

intellectual, artistic and mothering worlds can

flood into. Taking cues from prints and drawings

held in the Flinders University Art Museum

collection, grids, colour codes and symmetrical

compositions are laid out in the preliminary stages

of her canvas works. Each contains a centrepiece –

a ‘bouquet’ – arranged with drawings of Australian

flora, cooking utensils and baby bottles, which at

times evoke the shape of the female reproductive

system. Smaller components such as seedpods

and serviette holders are placed methodically on

the periphery. Callen’s measured order echoes the

scientific compositions of botanical illustration,

particularly Ferdinand Bauer’s (1760-1826)

engravings from Illustrationes florae Novae

Hollandiae (engraved 1806-13 and republished

1989). Bauer produced studies for the series

during the HMS Investigator

expedition, led by Matthew Flinders (1774-1814), which

circumnavigated Australia between 1801 and

1803. On the voyage Bauer utilised an elaborate

colour code of almost one thousand hues as well

as a letter code to denote sheen and texture.

Callen references his colour system by flanking

each canvas with strips of individually coloured

squares. Colour combinations are scrawled next

to each strip: ‘Chinese white, blue violet lake’,

‘mineral green, 3B, wine’ and in

Chattering leaves (2017), a collaged photograph of a ‘feral olive’

is cut into the shape of a square code. A sense

of structure is sought by the use of a grid – a

conventional drawing transfer tool employed by

Callen’s uncle, landscape artist Brian Callen

(1941-1996), in his preparatory drawings for

the mural, Study for South Australian flora

mural: orchards(1987). Later, these strictures are

overridden – buried and sometimes unearthed

– as either Callen’s young children (armed with

crayons and glitter) or the artist’s aesthetic

decisions take precedence.


Callen’s kitchen table adjoins the lounge

room where large, stretched canvases lean against

the walls. Swept across the floor a sea of papers

reveal haunting drawings of jellyfish: other-worldly

beings that glide and float in the depths of the

artist’s home. Initially a response to her daughter’s

pipe cleaner sculpture of

architeuthis dux, the South Australian Museum’s giant squid, Callen

progressed the series after viewing Charles-

Alexandre Lesueur’s (1778-1846)Mollusques et

zoophytes(1807). The hand-coloured engraving

of a jellyfish and molluscs was published in the

Voyage de découvertes aux Terres Australes

atlas,following Nicolas Baudin’s (1754-1803) ‘voyage

of discovery’ to Australia between 1800 and

1804. Callen constructs her ethereal figures using

‘pouncing’, a technique popular during the Italian

Renaissance. Numerous tiny holes are pierced

into tracing paper, then dusted with ground

charcoal to transfer an image to a separate sheet.

The technique is repeated, overlaid and reversed,

and the resultant filigree of dots is smudged with

graphite and colour highlights, animating the

marine creatures. They swim and hover in pairs,

embracing as if partners, or interlace with a brood

of jellyfish to resemble a family scene. In the

watery abyss their tendrils hang, undulating, they

are entwined like tree roots submerged within the

deep dark earth.


The storm yields and rain begins to

splatter onto the roof of Callen’s home. Her son

runs across the scattered drawings, barefoot

and dragging Wee waa, his special blanket

speckled with dirt from the garden and soaked in

the recent history of his day. He has returned from

the backyard where another, more majestic river

red gum resides and oversees time. Beneath its

canopy lay an assortment of toys and a crumpled,

milk-coloured canvas which collects the rain and

seems to sprout leaves.


Nic Brown


Flinders University acknowledges the Aboriginal and Torres

Strait Islander nations of the various locations it operates on,

and recognises the continued relationship to their lands and

waters by traditional owners past and present.

The Collections Project is a collaboration between

Guildhouse and Flinders University Art Museum that provides

artists with the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s

collections and staff to create new work.

The Collections Project | Fran Callen

Published by Flinders University Art Museum

August 2017

© Flinders University, Guildhouse, the artist and author

ISBN 978-0-9925472-5-7

Curator: Nic Brown

Essay: Nic Brown

Designer: Madeline Reece

Photography: Grant Hancock

Printer: Flinders Press

Flinders University Art Museum

Flinders University

GPO Box 2100 | Adelaide SA 5001

T 08 8201 2695 | E | #flindersart

Flinders University Art Museum staff

Director: Fiona Salmon

Exhibitions Manager: Celia Dottore

Exhibitions Assistant: Madeline Reece

Collections Manager: Nic Brown

Collections Registrar: Jessica Sangüesa

Flinders University Art Museum (FUAM) is responsible for

the preservation, management and development of the

University’s art collections comprising some 8,000 works.

It is actively engaged with students and staff through

teaching, learning and research, and broader audiences

by way of exhibitions, publications and associated public

programs. FUAM’s principal exhibition space, the City Gallery,

presents a schedule of curated projects aimed at exploring

contemporary themes, issues and ideas.

Cover image:

Dappled things

(detail), 2017, graphite, biro,

colour pencil, watercolour, synthetic polymer paint, gesso,

gold leaf, olive stain, beetroot stain, pomegranate stain, tea,

wine and eucalyptus sap on watercolour canvas, 130 x 122 cm

Inside page:

Inside, our fridge hums

(detail), 2017, graphite,

biro, charcoal, pastel, colour pencil, watercolour, synthetic

polymer paint, gesso, gold leaf, collage, tea, wine and

eucalyptus sap on watercolour canvas, 128 x 94 cm

This page:

Many, many welcomes

(detail), 2017, graphite,

charcoal, pastel and colour pencil on paper, 70 x 50 cm (paper)

Images courtesy the artist and BMG Art, Adelaide.

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