With the closure of the Helen Maxwell Gallery in 2009, Canberra largely lost sight of Janenne Eaton's work, an artist who had been a regular in the Canberra art scene. In the 1980s she taught at the Canberra School of Art for more than a decade and then went on to teach at the Victorian College of the Arts for another couple of decades. Now she has returned with a major new show at the Nancy Sever Gallery.
In some ways it is difficult to characterise Eaton's art. It is tough, cerebral and prickly. Immaculate in its surfaces, intricate and painstakingly exact in its execution and, despite all of its associations with new technologies, also quite human and somewhat subversive. There is a tension created between the optic effects of the mirrors, patterns, painted bullet holes, the bight neon range of colours and the modernist grid that disciplines and binds the surface together. A land of multiple horizons, 2014, by Janenne Eaton.
A very attractive small painting is Beautiful fragrant eucalypts, 2015, executed in shiny enamels and in a style which could be described as a white person's geometric dot painting. The title of the work is superimposed in white dots to give the surface an active kinetic quality and there is a play with sharp focus and soft focus elements that enhances the dynamism of the surface. AdvertisementA land of multiple horizons, 2014, is a large enamel canvas where many of the elements of her art making have been brought together. There is a mesmerising complexity of dots, arranged in several layers, which in the catalogue note is described as a "visual static that permeates contemporary culture". It appears like a highly patterned surface, somewhat mechanical and bursting at its seams. Superimposed on this is lettering which may be deciphered as a somewhat enigmatic inscription "No where's ville". It is this constantly pulsating surface and mixture of cerebral and lyrical elements that runs throughout the exhibition.
I think of Eaton as a modern-day archaeologist who collects data on how we live together in tight urban units and communicate through modern technologies and the power structures that this establishes. Although at first glance her art is cool and detached, below the surface lurks a subversive humour as well as a slightly alarmist and questioning intellect that is trying to make sense of all that is observed. I am reminded of a famous aphorism of French philosopher Michel Foucault when he wrote, "I try to carry out the most precise and discriminative analyses I can in order to show in what ways things change, are transformed, are displaced ... my entire research rests upon the postulate of an absolute optimism. I do not undertake my analyses to say: look how things are, you are all trapped."
In Eaton's canvases we appear trapped, but also capable of finding a way out.
Janenne Eaton is well known for glossy abstract gridded paintings that, in their complex navigation of surfaces and depths, turn our attention to political and social terrain(s). In this new series of work, Reef, Eaton extends her usual engagement with the virtual ‘grid’ by making more explicit reference to early textile samplers, quilts or weavings, in which stitched squares are commonly joined to form one pattern or image. In these new works, intensely coloured bright dots, lines and scrawls jostle, pour and hover within reflective black squares. This powerful play between the energy of the hand and the holding structure of the ‘grid’ brings a stimulated attention to the surface that somehow forces us to look beyond it. Via the title work Reef, we become attuned to the precariousness of our ocean environment, threatened with destruction. Eaton provides us with an abstract, textural aerial view of brightly coloured coral, and pictures us in relation to it. She references the active work of the hand, via delicately crafted framed mirrors and mandala like decals adorning the surface of the paintings. The mirrors operate as holes or gaps, suggesting a deep space underneath. As we move closer to see what might be there, we find ourselves. Other works feature bullet-holes on a pink surface, Posca filled squares, an angry slur of text, and bleeding holes of rainbow paint. With each vibrant and technically masterful work, Eaton punctures and opens the painterly space in a new way.
This interrogation of the surface is beautiful and political. In Eaton’s hands, painting and the world beyond it is a richly coloured, complex tapestry and we are offered the privilege of looking more closely. 
 Kate Just, Reflections – on a studio visit, September 2015