A Brief History
Josonia Palaitis was born into a world of art and artists in Sydney in 1949. Her father, John Mills, is without doubt Jo’s greatest influence. As a leading illustrator for the Australian Women’s Weekly from 1938 until his retirement in 1973, Mills enriched a generation of Australian trend seekers with his skillful watercolours. John Mills was a protégé of Dattilo Rubbo who taught generations of Australian artists between 1896 and the 1950s. Jo’s mother Patricia, who studied under Julian Ashton in Sydney and at the Slade Art School in London, also worked as an illustrator for numerous Sydney Department stores and magazines.
Growing up in a household immersed in the visual arts eventually steered Jo towards the National Art School in East Sydney from which she obtained her diploma in Art in 1972. In 1984 she received a Bachelors Degree from City Art Institute.
Travelling to Papua New Guinea for a brief holiday in 1973, she met and married Australian-Lithuanian Ed Palaitis. For the next two years she lived in PNG and began painting portraits of the indigenous people in both their daily attire and their full ceremonial dress. She also painted the spectacular landscapes and scenes of village life in watercolours and oils. It was an inspired period of her life which would ultimately lead Jo along the path of Realism – a path with so many corridors to explore.
The 1970s and 1980s were very much a period of exploration for the artist. Her training as an art teacher occurred at a time when painting styles were predominantly either abstract expressionist or colour field – a time when realism in Australia was an unfashionable bore to the partying populists and their curious admirers. But it was the 1977 touring exhibition, Illusion and Reality, which introduced Jo and many others to the work of American photo realists such as Chuck Close and Richard Estes. It was then that she realized that her primary interest in art making and the nature of realism in art was in fact, part of a wider arena.
Jo has travelled extensively to Europe, Japan and the United States to absorb the seemingly infinite spectrum of the world’s historical and contemporary art. She is interested in both technique and the way in which painters approach their work.
Cover of the Australian Women’s Weekly from December 31st, 1949. Painted by her father John Mills depicting Jo as a young baby.