Driving up to the Mackintosh’s house is not that different from driving around Kangaroo Island — dirt roads bordered by native shrubbery and imposing Kangaroo Island Narrow-leaved Mallee trees. Our vehicle negotiates potholes resembling inverted speed bumps, and the tree branches extend wildly, marking our 4WD with nature’s imprints as we navigate through the organic barriers. A clearing unfolds at the top, marking an abrupt transition from dense bush to the spaciously arranged pines of a forest. Amidst the rows of trees, a wooden lodge comes into view. We pull up, and out pops Janine, waving her hands about like the trees that welcomed us on the way up.
“Welcome,” she screams out, hugging my guide, Craig Wickham from Exceptional Kangaroo Island, with a familiarity that suggests they’re family — a common occurrence on this island. I reach out my hand, but she pulls me in for a hug. “Come in,” she says as a drizzle trickles through the green canopy above us.
Janine Mackintosh is an award-winning Kangaroo Island assemblage artist. She arranges various plant life foraged from her 800 acres of woodlands, heathlands, and wetlands on the south coast of Kangaroo Island — her swathe of ecological antiquity — into two-dimensional images on canvas. “There are over 180 species on my little slice of the island alone,” she explains.
One species particular to her is the Kangaroo Island narrow-leaved Malle Tree, an exclusive resident of the island. Visitors can see it around the airport when they arrive by plane or the cathedral arbour at the top of Penneshaw Hill if they arrive by ferry.
“It’s still grown and harvested on the island for distillation into eucalyptus oil. It has long lance-shaped leaves and lovely mottled bark, so I’ve used it in several pieces, explains Janine.
Her studio is a rectangle lodge made of timber, with rusted metal buckets lined on the verandah. Hubcaps, spokes, and various circular components from everyday objects serve as a unique welcome, offering a glimpse into her mind and creative process — somewhat chaotic yet deliberate in every artistic gesture.
Inside her studio, the scene is familiar for an artist’s workspace — half-finished artworks strewn about, an ongoing project on a workbench, and easels creating a stark contrast to the meticulously organised materials labelled and organised into wooden drawers.
The current focus of her attention is a piece destined for the new Southern Ocean Lodge, a resurrection of the old lodge that was razed by the wildfires in January 2020. She’s collected seashells from the untamed southern shores of the island, all uniform in their sandy white hue. These shells vary in height and width, arranged like a bagel. When viewed from the right angle, they resemble mountains towering over a valley of shorter, wider shells.
“This is just one of the pieces going in the new lodge,” she says, ushering me into the next room where stacks of framed square canvases took up half the room. Janine flicked through them like vinyl records, revealing each one of her assemblages contained inside a singular circle — the unifying element across her body of work.
Among them are eucalyptus leaves, arranged in a spiral that whirls to the centre, linear patterns made of seeds and stalks, and abstract scatterings made up of shells, seeds, and leaves. Then there’s the beauty of dried yellow and purple flowers, the teardrop shapes of bright, autumnal leaves arranged like a mandala.
“Some pieces remind me of the kinds of things we see through telescopes or microscopes; others reference the grids of scientific vegetation surveys but are also reminiscent of domestic patchwork quilts,” she says.
Each artwork reflects her evolving personal love affair with Kangaroo Island. She is fascinated and respectful but has concern and fierce protectiveness over the land. She explains her works as windows into the natural world. “I want people to appreciate the great diversity within the island’s wilderness. It’s precious and unfathomable in its complexity,” she notes.
“We’re just starting to realise that the survival of our species, along with our fellow lifeforms, depends on maintaining that complexity (yet we’ve been hellbent on simplifying landscapes and are starting to pay the price). So conservation is my main motivation and message.”
The collection of 42 artworks is Janine’s most ambitious and largest body of work to date and took her nearly three years to complete. “It was such a privilege to be commissioned to create artworks inspired by the landscapes that I‘m so passionate about, and I’m thrilled that guests will be seeing the artworks within that same context.”
She started flicking through the next stack of works when I noticed an unnatural object in her assemblage, the first I’ve spotted. “Oh, that’s a piece of burned metal from the old lodge,” she says. “I have a shed full of it.”
Next to her studio is a small tin shed concealed beneath a black tarp. Light seeps through a singular window, casting half of the shed into darkness. Rusty buckets laden with nails and finger-sized metal fragments are scattered across tables and old dressers. Larger metal pieces claim space on tables at hip height and on the floor.
Not long after the wildfire, Hayley Baillie, co-owner of Baillie Lodges and the Southern Ocean Lodge, invited Janine to the burnt site to collect materials. “I spent five days scrounging through the debris looking for interesting relics — mostly ceramics, metal and glass,” says Janine.
From these remnants, Janine created 129 little plaques, each a whimsical blend of materials. The pieces were laid out on a clear plastic sheet over a table in the tin shed. Some had numbers on them; some were made up of different shapes and textures, and others were more identifiable, with pictures of a kangaroo on an Australian-shaped tile.
The plaques are now hung as a collection on a curved wall at the spa entrance. “I wanted them to be quirky and attractive, as a positive reminder of the first Lodge, not so much the wildfire, although some of the materials have been ’transformed’. ”
Janine has also made a triptych of three landscapes, which guests can spot, hung together in the spa corridor. They have painterly backgrounds overlaid with stitched nails, screws and upholstery staples. “They evoke the island landscapes here after the wildfires, where trees and shrubs were reduced to a repetition of burnt linear shapes within a sea of ash,” explains Janine. “They were shocking scenes but also quite beautiful.”
The Southern Ocean Lodge is slated to open on December 6, 2023, sporting a new look with the same high-end gastronomy experience and personal connection with nature as the previous one did. It will celebrate the resilient spirit of Kangaroo Island, where Janine’s artworks serve as a roadmap and visual cue for guests.
Exiting the tin shed, we’re greeted by Janine’s husband, Richard Glatz, who waves with slightly less enthusiasm but a warmth that matches Janine’s. “Hello!” he calls from outside his studio. “Any interest in insects?”
Entering his studio reveals a narrow, towering space permeated by the fresh scent of paint and chemicals, gently tickling my nose. Wooden drawers are neatly stacked from floor to ceiling. Richard, an entomologist boasting one of the island’s largest collections and among Australia’s most extensive, begins pulling out drawers one by one. Each drawer unveils a precise arrangement of pinned insects, meticulously labelled with their scientific names, spanning from flies to beetles and the most vivid butterflies I’ve ever encountered, hailing from South Africa.
As I stood in the studios, surrounded by an assemblage of insects and plants, I felt as if I was standing in their brains. One might be more scientific than the other, but they were both the same, arranging objects in patterns with a deep respect for the island and a parental instinct to protect it. Janine and Richard use found objects, both man-made and natural, to tell a story no one else can tell. It’s and always will be their purpose to tell the story of Kangaroo Island.