Living within easy walking distance of native bush it is little wonder that birds form a major part of Jane Crisp's portfolio. However, it is the interaction between nature and human curiosities that give Jane's work a point of difference and a sense of humanity.
We spoke to Jane about how her classmates recognised her artistic ability at an early age, a chance encounter went on to influence her artistic career and how she immerses herself in her work for months at a time...
Tell us a little about your artistic background, and your first creative influences?
At the age of 5, I had my classmates lining up wanting me to draw their pictures in their storybooks, that’s my earliest memory of recognition for my artistic abilities. Previous to that I have vague memories of the kindergarten easels with newsprint pegged to them, the smell of the brightly coloured paint and the feel as my oversized long-handled paintbrush, loaded with paint, touched the surface as my creation emerged. Throughout my childhood I would spend hours drawing, painting and crayoning in my huge stack of colouring-in books, and making all kinds of things from whatever I could get my hands on, I lived and breathed art, and exploring creativity was my playground and my sanctuary. I’ve always known being an artist is how I’d eventually earn a living, and as I grew I realised my independence in this field was the path I would take to allow my spirit to guide me.
My fascination with birds was born pre-teenage when I noticed a large coffee table book of Ray Harris Ching’s incredible work at a friend’s home. Through my senior school years, I found myself in the art room at lunchtimes and all other times I could! My Art teacher, whom I believe to be one of my life mentors, described me as having an extremely sensitive eye.
I was drawn to fine detail so I attended Auckland University of Technology and completed a year of preliminary courses in Graphic Design. I was told I could easily be accepted for the 3-year diploma course by one of my tutors but something inside me was telling me this wasn’t my path.
Feeling a little lost in my direction I moved into the fabric industry where I worked with exotic fabrics and laces for a few years, then married my husband and soon after we started a family, but the whole time I maintained my interest in art. I continued to practice my craft, experimenting with paint, drawing, researching and studying other artists including Ray Harris Ching’s birds and his techniques, attending life drawing classes, and the odd logo design or art-related job would now and then come my way.
With the support of my husband I was able to put together a body of work and was ready for my first solo show in 2003 at my local arts centre.
You describe yourself as largely self-taught; how did you discover your current painting style?
My style developed through constant practise and study of other artist’s techniques, yet my attention to detail remained. I decided this was where I would concentrate and through discovering the best tools and paints and surfaces that worked to achieve this I persevered to achieve realism in my work. In recent years I’ve found this style too restricting and tense feeling, so have attempted to free up my strokes using a larger range of brushes to capture more movement and ease so my work can breathe.
How do you develop an idea? Is there a certain pathway that brings you from thought onto canvas? Is there a routine you follow each time you begin a new piece?
Each painting I begin is a continuation from the previous painting and my ideas stem from my personal development as I attempt to understand the world and the human experience. My life work covers anything metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical. As reflected to me by a dear friend and artist of mine when viewing my work he said:
“the mixing of two natural motifs fauna and flora, bliss and death, powerful natural forces”
This resonated deeply and I quickly wrote it down and stuck it up on my studio wall. It reminded me of something Joseph Campbell would say, another great influence in my life. Every piece is a personal revelation or a step towards that revelation. I’ll stage together a scene through how it feels and more often than not the meaning behind the painting will only reveal its self once the work is complete. I’ll work an idea for several paintings or until I feel done with that idea, a sign I’ve worked through that part of my development, and I can then move on. There is plenty of self-discovery and growth which goes on through my paintings reflecting my awareness at the time, my concerns with the environment, and issues many sensitive creatives find themselves dealing with. Spiritual alchemy and the transmutation of self.
Leonardo daVinci once said:
"Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art”
This I resonate completely with and is my constant reminder to my purpose.
There’s a certain level of vulnerability in sharing your art with others, particularly when you immerse yourself so deeply. Do you worry about people judging you and have you ever felt a work is too personal to release?
When creating and putting your work out into the public eye, if you’re not feeling nauseous afterwards then you’re not showing up. If you don’t feel like you’re walking naked down the street then you’re not showing up. If you are going to be all that you can be in your work here on earth you have to show up in full vulnerability. Anything less and you’re just pretending. These are some things I’ve learnt from Brene Brown and Neil Gaiman. In the last couple of years, I have begun to understand this and slowly the courage builds with each painting to show up fully.
After completing your last solo show you took a few weeks to re-charge your batteries. Do you normally find after working towards a solo show you need to take a step back or are you eager to begin the next piece?
When I commit to a solo show I commit completely, mind, body and soul. I pull out of regular life and submerge myself into my work for the months it takes. Life does become unbalanced at this time, I will immerse myself for every waking hour, I push everything aside as I connect with my muse as if in an awake meditation that lasts the duration of the time it takes to bring out the work onto canvas. It can be frustrating at times as any interruption will raise my anxiety levels if I’m broken out of this state that I must be in to produce my best work.
Yet, at the same time I still need to function as a mother and wife to my busy family.
It’s an intense time, a time of solitude and introspection. When the work is done, the deadline arrived; I’ll send my work off and be left with emptiness where I feel completely drained of all life. I go through a grieving process in the couple of weeks that follow because huge parts of me have been released into the world and I have to let go. In my recent show, ‘An Aviary Of Alchemy’, I opened more deeply and exposed more of the makings of my self than I have ever done before and found the first week following send off the most intense I’ve experienced yet. I step into this place and fully experience it, it usually takes a week of feeling numb before I begin re-emerging back into regular life. I’ll take another week or so in my vegetable garden, reconnecting, recharging, and catching up on everything that has been put aside.
Knowing how you disconnect from the ‘real world', are you ever hesitant to delve back into the ‘rabbit hole’ when prepping for a new show or are you eager to get back to that meditative state?
Always eager, as I know its coming and will have been preparing for it for months, sometimes a year, ahead. So I have all my ducks lined up and schedule cleared to delve in deep. I have found in the past if I have big shows too close together, without enough of ‘normal’ working in between, I find it harder, so I have slowly worked out over the years what is most efficient for producing my best work. At the moment I think a solo show every third, or maybe second, year works best, with group shows and commissions filling in between them, although I’ve had to close the door on commissions for a while as the waiting list had reached 2 years. I can definitely say, for now, a solo show every year is too draining.
Art means different things to different people. What does art mean to you?
What does art mean to me? Art is my life, it’s everything I know and I interpret life through it. It is the main constant that has always been with me since as long as I can remember, and as cheesy as it sounds, I know without a doubt this is why I am here, experiencing life through an artist’s eyes, with sensitive eyes. Art IS life. With art, with creativity, life happens, life explodes, we are taken to the space away from logic and we can divulge ourselves into dreams and imagination, where we can manifest those dreams into our reality. We allow ourselves to tap into that right brain where anything is possible. We can discover ourselves and our world. The Universe becomes our playground where we unfold life itself. The transmutation and transcendence of the soul. A place where we can turn darkness into light. Through art, we can connect with our internal voice, with our muses, a place where we can dance with spirit, and give birth to the conversation.