Jeana Blackert, artist.

“An elderly gentleman came into the gallery last year and told me he felt that my artwork was giving him a hug. That was really sweet, because everyone was missing out on hugs then.”

For Geelong’s Jeana Blackert, art is about connection – with herself, the community and the environment.

Jeana is one of a group of artists who exhibit their work at Papermill Artisans in Fyansford, an innovative new gallery offering arts, crafts and ice-cream.

Growing up in the United States, Jeana enjoyed gardening and sewing with her mum, who is a quilter.

“As a kid, I found craft an easier way to connect with people – I’d bring a craft project along to every playdate. It was a safe place to express how I was feeling,” Jeana remembers.

After coming to Australia to study, Jeana met her husband Peter and started a family.

“After our girls were born, I started making toys for them and used embroidery to ‘draw’ photos of family,” Jeana says.

“In 2014 I completed a diploma of textile arts at Box Hill Institute of TAFE. Over the next few years I felt a growing need to dig deeper into my art practice and bring my work out of the pages of my sketch book.”

With the encouragement of an artist friend, Jeana enrolled in a graduate diploma of creative arts at Deakin University, which she recently completed.

Jeana’s current works on display at Papermill Artisans include ‘Tend’, a meandering sculpture of wire, string and paper pulp she describes as “three-dimensional drawing”. (This is the one that the gallery visitor described as giving him a hug.)

“It is about the emotional acts of continuing, adapting and caring for myself and my loved ones through this extended period of uncertainty of the covid-19 pandemic,” Jeana says.

Jeana also has a lovely range of hand-built ceramic bowls on display.

On Fridays, the gallery doubles as a working studio, and Jeana enjoys chatting with visitors.

“I think of my work as a conversation between myself and materials I use, presented to the viewers as a visually poetic installation. It is then about how the viewer might connect and ‘read’ the work. That is what continues the work, all the responses. The next step is then how I respond, and further the conversation,” Jeana says.

Jeana has also teamed up with four other artists to form Geelong Experimental Arts, or GEXA. They are now working on their first collaboration for Geelong Design Week, from 18 March 2021. The theme for this year’s event is ‘Unpredictable’.

“‘Breathe’ will be our response to what we observed and experienced during the pandemic, how people reacted to being isolated, disconnection and new ways of connection,” Jeana says.

You can find Jeana on Instagram @jeana_blackert, and GEXA @geelong.experimental.arts

Papermill Artisans is at 100 Lower Papermill Road, Fyansford, or on Facebook @thepapermillcollective

Story and photos: Emma Homes