Janet’s of 2011/2012 exhibition at the Hahndorf Academy. Opening speech given by Viv Szekeres.
I met Janet about three years ago when I retired and began to attend her watercolour painting classes here at the Hahndorf Academy on Tuesday mornings. So being one of her pupils it’s a great honour to be asked to launch my teacher’s exhibition. I want to talk about Janet the artist, the teacher and the delightful person that I have started to get to know. This exhibition brings together a collection of her paintings and etchings that reflect her responses to her homeland both here on the Mainland and on Kangaroo Island where she grew up. The other day when we were talking about her putting this exhibition together, Janet used the German word Heimat which means homeland to describe this work and you can see why. It seems to me that Homeland in this context isn’t just about a sense of place, it is an identity that is central to Janet and her work. Apart from the very personal nature of these paintings and etchings I believe that Janet is also keeping faith with a long tradition practised amongst many women artists. She observes the world from the perspective of the inside. She gives us her very particular indoor world but this interior vision is not a confined one because she always invites us to a view to the outside world.
Janine Burke in her book about Australian women artists who painted from the 1840s until the 1940s analyses this interior perspective pointing out that many of the early Australian women artists had a passion for detail and for the minutia of daily life. She says they had an absorption with the commonplace that infuse their works and she describes how many of the women drew the very stuff of their art from what was closest to them – the immediate domestic and rural setting of their lives. I think Janet’s work, whilst being very much of our times continues some of this artistic tradition. It reflects the processes and experiences rather than the grand statement. You can see that her indoor paintings are full of the much loved clutter of domestic life, quirky, busy almost to the point of chaotic. They are joyful and poetic, reverential with a quiet peacefulness too. Pets have a privileged place in this world. They aren’t just pets or objects to be painted but personalities with their own comments and observations to make about the outside world. They might be ‘counting possums or fish’ or just encouraging Janet in her bottling or jam making activities, or sharing a small patch of sun with her while she works. We feel we know these pets, dogs called Oscar and Molly, Norman, Pepper, Albert and Milly. Geese called Gordon and Minnie. They share Janet’s interior world but like her they take a most keen interest in everything that goes on outside too. And the landscapes are painted with such love. You can feel Janet’s deep connection with the places that she paints. She gives us the big panorama, the large vista and then takes us beyond and behind the obvious to the detail that only she knows exists. She knows these details from living in these landscapes, of playing in and on the rivers, lakes and seashores from the time she was a small child. She knows the creatures that inhabit this world from observing them and she very deliberately draws our attention to those smaller creatures with whom she shares the canvas such as the water-boatmen, dragon flies, black cockatoos, ibis, moorhens, beetles and fish.
Janet’s paintings and etchings are carefully layered yet also bursting with her curiosity, her love of life and appreciation of everyone and everything about her. We get a glimpse of the world she values and treasures. It is an eclectic world, one which is completely open to ideas of all shapes and sizes. Like her conversation Janet’s work is full of visual references as well as poetic, musical and literary ones. Her art classes are like mirrors of her work. We move seamlessly between discussion about watercolour painting techniques and the work of great artists to the latest good book, yesterdays politics, religions and non religions, human rights, recipes and remedies just to name a few. Which brings me to Janet the teacher. She is always so diplomatic and encouraging. The biggest, muddy mess never daunts her. “Can I have a go?, she will say tentatively and while we watch the mud pie takes shape and is transformed in a way that always gives us hope to try another day. She brings new life and new ways of seeing to our work and to us. And when the inspiration flags we can just look around the class room and see examples of her work and be inspired again. For me Janet is definitely an inspiration. Her work makes me feel good. It makes me smile. It’s like being in Janet’s company where the sound of laughter is never far away. She has a great capacity for making people feel good. This exhibition is just the latest example of that great skill.
Viv Szekeres, The former Director of the SA Migration Museum