BLEACHED: LAURA JONES’S HOPE FOR THE REEF

In preparation for her 2017 solo show at Olsen Gallery, Laura Jones reflects on her time visiting the Great Barrier Reef for The Gaurdian, written by .

‘The artist says her undeniably sad portraits of bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef are about resilience: ‘It’s not a fragile delicate flower … it’s so important to be optimistic and do what we can to protect it’.

Laura Jones is pained by the delicate balance she wants to strike. Her paintings of coral bleaching are going to be engulfing, immersive and undeniably sad. But she wants them to express hope and resilience, too.

It’s something she keeps coming back to before, during and after I visit her studio, where she is preparing a major exhibition.

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“It’s not a fragile, delicate flower,” Jones says of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. “It’s quite resilient. Somehow I need to show that in the paintings. But still show that we’re really hammering it.”

Partly inspired by the Guardian’s in-depth coverage of coral bleaching in 2016, including around Lizard Island in the northern reef, Jones packed her bags and became an artist-in-residence on the island for 10 days in August.

Diary note from 19 August

‘I set out for Lizard Island after being in Melbourne for three days for a series of art fairs. After a quick stop at my home in Sydney to pick up my camera, art supplies and a wetsuit, I headed for far north Queensland. From Cairns I made the trip to the research station on a tiny six-seater plane. The journey included spectacular views of the reef and the bright blue sky looked like it was melting into the ocean.”

When she got there, she landed in the epicentre of what was the worst bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef had ever seen. Just a few months earlier, about a quarter of the coral on the entire 2,300km length had been killed, with 85% of that mortality in the northern third – right where Jones landed.

She would go snorkelling or diving for four hours a day, and then go back to her workspace – a desk in a lab shared with scientists – where she would sketch what she saw and write in her diary.

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