Despite setting up a successful jewellery business with her husband, blogger Jane always knew she was an artist and eventually found the time and space to develop her painting. Andrew Bryant talks to Jane about business, the relationship between art and craft, the obsession with interpretation and about feminism and painting.
Andrew Bryant: You say your life experience hasn't led to a career in art, but that your life has been, in large part, because you are an artist. What does it mean to be an artist?
Jane Boyer: From the time I knew what 'being something' meant, I have wanted to be an artist. I spent my childhood, it's better moments, drawing, colouring, painting, and making things. High school was the first opportunity to study art in a serious sort of way and when I entered university it was as an art major - there was never a question in my mind or a moment's hesitation as to what I would do. Unfortunately, I was not able to finish my degree because I ran out of money. It broke my heart.
The fascination I've had with the visual world is literal and perceptual; I just love looking and watching. Perceptually, I was fascinated by the non-focus that would happen when I looked at a window screen. I've seen things upside down for a split second. I've made out hearts in the tiniest creases of skin on my fingers.
AB: For many years you ran a successful jewellery business with your husband. How do you see the relationship between art and craft?
JB: The craft was a detour; I sort of fell into it. I started making jewellery for a woman who was self-employed and struggling. This led to the creation of my own jewellery business with my husband. We were self-employed craft jewellers for over sixteen years and we learned how to do everything the hard way, by jumping in feet first. But in my heart I never left art and it actually was a very difficult time for me because I wasn't making a lot of art - I was still working with photography then. Basically, I was floundering in my art career and I felt miserable about it.
In my opinion, craft is all about business so it’s is important to know what is current in the market. It is about watching trends. It is important to do things professionally because it is possible a craft designer will work with some very large clients. Now that is not to say art isn't about business, because it is. And it is important to know what is happening in the market and in critical debate. Art gets more complicated in a way because it involves personal expression and critical commentary - cultural evolution basically. It's more difficult to go to market with that tucked under your arm than a case full of good design. Art has to encompass a lot more and challenge a lot more about society. So perhaps that is the bottom line, the engagement with society, in any of its aspects, is what underlies the difference between art and craft.
AB: How did you eventually make the transition from craft to focusing on what you really wanted?
JB: The transition from jewellery to painting was an interesting one because it passed through photography. I realised I had to get my art career back on course or I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life. So with the support of my husband we set up a colour darkroom in a spare bedroom and I set about re-teaching myself the Cibachrome colour process. I was having some success, making work and exhibiting, when I ran into financial troubles again. But I could not live without making art and I decided I would teach myself to paint as I felt it would be a more affordable medium and I had always wanted to paint anyway. The work I had been doing with photography was complex darkroom work. I was working with multiple masks and combining bits of several different images to create a new image. This involved drawing and through it I realised I really missed the hand in my work. It was one of the things that drew me to painting; I wanted to feel my hands create again.
AB: In your blog you reflect on the expectation we seem to have of ourselves as artists to speak clearly and confidently about our work. Why do you think we are so obsessed with interpretation, and how do you think it effects your painting?
JB: I think when artists in the nineteenth century started making work which was no longer in the classical tradition of the salon it became important for artists to speak about their art. They were pushing boundaries and they were being misunderstood. And of course as art history and criticism developed, talking about art and meaning became more entwined with the artist's work. Now it seems we almost have an egg/chicken paradox - what comes first, the talk or the art? Don't get me wrong, I think it is important to be clear and articulate, especially in one's own mind about the work one is doing. But there is a curious grey area where gallerists/critics/writers want to be fed information from the artist, the artist wants to be told what he's accomplished and what he's conveyed in the work and it seems to spin and spin and spin until a bunch of words have coalesced into something seemingly intelligible. Is it truth? Does it bear any relation to what the artist was grappling with?
In my own work, the 'obsession with interpretation' leads me to weigh and question what I've done, but I'm not trying to attach meaning through this obsessive questioning, I'm trying to clarify my aims. For me meaning is related to the intuitive nature of making art and I see it as something that resides in my satisfaction and the viewer's reaction. It is something wholly out of my control. I make this distinction because I think it is very important to know why it is we state something, what we are trying to achieve with the statement. I feel meaning resides as much with the viewer as it does with me.
I was impressed by something Matisse said once:
"I have always sought to be understood, and when my works were garbled by critics or colleagues, I considered it no fault of theirs but my own, because I had not been clear enough to be comprehended. This attitude has enabled me to work all my life without feeling hatred, or even bitterness toward criticism, from whatever source it came, as I relied solely upon clarity of expression in my works to achieve my end. Hatred, rancour, and a vengeful disposition are burdens which the artist cannot load upon himself. His path is so difficult that he must rid his spirit of all that could weigh upon it."
I keep that tucked in my back pocket.
AB: You are a painter and yet you say your medium is not paint, but movement, "...movement which combined with thought equals the presence of an individual." So you are in direct conversation with the abstract expressionists who were, for the most part, men operating in a world that was yet to go through the twin crucibles of feminism and post-structuralism, as Hal Foster has put it. As a woman in a post-feminist world how do you negotiate that relationship?
JB: The male dominated attitude of Abstract Expressionism was one of entitlement and in their case there was an arrogance - not that they didn't have doubts and fears and insecurities, I mean a significant number of the group committed suicide - but they believed they were entitled to pursue their course. As a female in a post-feminist world (god what a burden that sounds!) the very point I'm making is there are boundaries, limitations, circumstances beyond control. What are any of us entitled to except to say 'I'm alive'?
The difference between what I want and what I can achieve is directly influenced by so many other forces (my context) outside of myself that in reality what I want bears little relation often, to what I can achieve. I've learned, as a female, to exist in that space between expectation and disappointment, desire and accommodation, possibility and reality. That is not to say men don't live in that gap too, but the male position is made precarious by too great an acknowledgement of it. The female position is one of adaptation.
So why did Pollock deny the mistake (chance)? Because he was staking a claim of control over his medium, paint.
Why do I say my medium is movement? Because I've got no claim to stake other than to say 'I'm here and this is how I prove it'.
Andrew Bryant is an artist and freelance editor living in London
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2011
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