Linda Jackson – Bush Couture

Words by Mel Forsyth

Photos by J Forsyth

National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square, Melbourne CBD until September 9th.

Bush Couture is an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria that displays the work of Linda Jackson, designer and photographer. When I heard about this exhibition, I did a little research into Linda Jackson because although I am familiar with the work that came from her partnership with fellow Australian designer, Jenny Kee, I was unfamiliar with the label Bush Couture. To be honest this title brings up ‘Australiana’ type images (Circa mid 70’s to 80 something), and I am not particularly fond of those images. Just a little back ground – from the mid 70’s there was an atmosphere of political optimism, and a rapidly changing arts and cultural scene in Australia. For the first time arts and cultural organisations started to receive support from the government with the aim of shaping a new nationalism. To a certain extent, these cultural changes are reflected in some of Jackson’s work. However, after taking a good look around the exhibition it is clear that there is lot more to her work that gum leaf motifs and Opera House references.

Jackson has a keen eye for color and composition. In her early work for the Flamingo Park Frock Salon, a label she co-created with Jenny Kee, she experimented with color and shape to create unique couture that blurs the line between high fashion and costume. Her interest and respect for indigenous cultures and their arts has also influenced much of her work. On a trip to Central Australia in 1980, Jackson was struck by the color and space of the outback and the beauty of indigenous art. After this trip, Jackson started using metallic paint on fabric to create imagery reminiscent of the Australian landscape. She then used this fabric to create her version of traditional dress/costume from other cultures like the Japanese Kimono. A later trip to East Africa inspired Jackson to combine traditional African dress and jewelry with textiles designed and hand painted Aboriginal artists. During the time Bush Couture was in business, Jackson collaborated with many other Australian designers and artists. Example on display are her work with David MacDiarmid, who hand-painted many of her garments with his distinctive graphic style and Peter Tully, who created many distinctive pieces of jewelry to go with her couture pieces such as the multi-coloured perspex ‘OZ’ broach that was attached to Abstract Patchwork Outfit, 1976. The exhibition concludes with photography by Fran Moore and Jackson herself. The photography summarizes Jackson’s relationship with Australian culture and the Australian landscape.