I studied fine art at UWE gaining a BA hons as a mature student in 2003. I left formal education at 15 and worked in the post room of the county library. It was only when I took a working break to raise a family that I developed a personal practice and was able to study.
I represent myself and currently show my work annually from my studio.
a biography by Nicholas Naydler
“The highest knowledge is to know that we are surrounded by mystery”
Jane Garbett was born in Shropshire in 1962 and in the late 90’s did the Art Foundation Course at Stroud College, Gloucestershire, followed by a Fine Art degree at the University of the West of England. In this setting she felt quite alone: conceptual art was in fashion and painting was devalued by the tutors as a thing of the past. She was simultaneously raising two young children and her husband was away from home for long stretches of time for his work. It was thus a challenging journey from the outset. But she had a passion for paint and the qualities of paint, which continues to preoccupy her 20 years later. As a child, her mother nurtured in her a close observation of nature, but whilst growing up, the idea of becoming an artist didn’t seem viable. When she became a mother herself, she provided her children with paints, crayons and paper, and thereby got engrossed in playing with the materials of colour and hue herself.
For her, painting is not about cathartic self-expression. The work is about anything but emotional outpouring, and it is nonetheless clear that each work is finely informed by feeling. She describes herself as being very visual, and early in her life as a painter found that by delving, for example, into the markings on stones, the stones would go away and something else would come forward, responses to the minutiae of fissure, texture, shadow, patina, lichen.
She works almost exclusively in oil paints, sometimes adding wax or spirit, and in recent years particularly with environmentally friendly water-soluble oil paints. The slowness of working in oils suits her temperament; she likes their malleability and viscosity, and she says, they mix well. Acrylic dries too quickly. Sometimes she’ll rub in pigments for texture. Brush, cloth and palette knife are her tools of application. She makes her own colours by mixing primary colours and has a fascination for this alchemical aspect of painting, recording and tracking the outcome of her studies with a sense of wonder in the arpeggios of colour tone.
In playing with visual qualities, composing on the surface of canvas, paper or wood, a sense of making something harmonically right is of central concern.
This has to do with the mysterious transition from raw observation (proprioception unmediated by recognition), into making. Raw perceptions are transmuted into a personal new coherence, and a painting arises from the concord achieved by the painter. Thus, traces of the ephemeral are wrought by the artist into a mysterious new emanation. Allowing for and welcoming the accidental is intrinsic to her method.
The point at which to bring to completion any particular work is difficult to know: she goes away from a painting in progress, comes back, catches it unawares, and sometimes regrets not having stopped and left it sooner. As she says wryly “You get better as you carry on, or you can also go backwards.”
It’s a paradox that at the heart of her practice is something private that takes place in her studio, and that the counterpoint of returning to the community with her works then has an equivalent importance. She has to find a pathway back to the collective. In this turning, bringing, and sharing, lies another type of technical challenge: how to represent oneself in the world.
Her studio in Painswick is not subservient to art world fads. In the Turner prize era of pickled sharks, there is something intrinsically both poetical and musical in the processes by which JG resolves her works and I feel that they have a certain ethical quality of sincerity and integrity. There is a quiet honing and attunement that happens, the subtle tuning of a fine eye and a fine hand that has a humility in the honouring of the world’s easily unnoticed surfaces and the way they can touch us at a deep place in the heart. And thus one feels in meeting the artist, a clarity of purpose, a sensitivity, a warmth of heart, a thoroughness and a thoughtfulness.
In the studio she comes into a state of meditative flow, which she describes as being a sort of food. Beside the studio is a Quaker Meeting house, where she participates in doctrine-free silent worship, also a part of her practice, another kind of absorption.
“My practice is my life, and my life is my practice” she says, which includes teaching art. “If I don’t paint I dip emotionally”, and when she starts again it’s as if she’s getting back in tune with herself and her life.
J.M.W.Turner was a major early influence as was Rembrandt van Rijn.
Giorgio Morandi has been pivotal (perhaps his quiet concentration and a discovery of depth through confinement of subject matter), and more contemporaneously, Cy Twombly, Antoni Tapies, and Anselm Kiefer’s explorations of what is not said.
It was in 1911 that Kandinsky ‘s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” was first published, which one can take as a declaration of abstract art, and yet to this day there are many who feel at a loss when faced with abstract paintings, perhaps particularly when visiting a picturesque Cotswold village. As JG says, the mind looks for something it can recognise and name.
One might, however, bypass this habit and try simply to arrest one’s need for cognitive certainty, surrendering one’s presence to that in the work that is before one. One can suspend judgement and let in the sumptuousness of colours, textures, marks, scratchings, daubs and drifts of paint and thereby allow the spell of the unknown to get to one viscerally. We’re familiar with the abstract and universal language of music, which taps into our depths and affects us so much. As with the composer, there arises an unconscious communication with the artist and through the artist, with a field of diffuse awareness and connectedness beyond what is delineated, defined and recognisable. It appears to me that her studio is akin to a research laboratory. The subject of her research being an aesthetic differentiation and articulation of values in the myriad appearances of the visual field. Though her gaze may investigate a landscape (Stories from the Sea series, Order and Chaos series), it might as well come to rest on the effects of rust on the fragment of a gate post, or the flaking paint and patterns of decay on the corner of an old door, vestiges of the weathering, denting, corroding impact of time on all of the surfaces of the world around her. She is captivated by palimpsests, noticing what is left behind and replaced, sometimes juxtaposed, the fleeting traces left by everyday life.
She enquires into the appearances and disappearances of the material world that any given aspect of things bear witness to at a particular time. Are we not all, finally, nomads in an unknown land that is continuously eroding and growing, decaying and becoming?
Jane Garbett records the spell of the sensuous, the mystery and beauty that assails each of us when we are willing to be less busy and more receptive. The artist then becomes a guide to the beauty of the quotidian, painting visual hymns to the ubiquitous miracle that is everyday life.
As I left her studio the other day, I felt that I had walked out of the stillness of a chapel.
de Menil, D. (2010): The Rothko Chapel – Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine, A Rothko Chapel Book, published by Yale University Press in association with the Rothko Chapel, New Haven and London, 2010
A Passion for Paint