Janet Strayer - Featured Artist For April 2010

Which artistic media do you prefer to work in and why?

Oils: they are slow, forgiving, very sensuous and lustrous. I can understand Van Gogh’s urge to eat them. But I don’t always have the patience for oils. I work with acrylics and mixed media to explore with more abandon. I feel I have to be more serious or thoughtful when I’m working with oils. Digital painting provides another fantastic artistic medium, expanding my focus and skills because almost nothing is impossible to do with it.

With which past or contemporary artists or artworks do you, as an artist, feel a connection? What is it that draws you to them?

I love Rembrandt for his human and painterly insights as well as his independent-minded approach, despite the current “in” thing.  And I love Picasso for his unabashed profusion of willful talent in all artistic directions, and Shadbolt for his penetration of form. I’m rather promiscuous regarding contemporary artists, finding an assortment of different qualities I can love in their works, rather than falling for any one. A problem perhaps is that I’m attracted to so many different artists for different qualities of their techniques and images. The weight of art history can be both intimidating and inspiring.

Which particular processes or techniques of art-making interest you now?

I’m intrigued with digital image-making and how it can interface with more traditional uses of paint and other media.  At the same time, I dedicate time and effort to investigating old-masters’ painting and drawing techniques. I want to bring them both to bear in my art work.

What particular challenges in art-making do you face at this time?

Lots. Not destroying something because it falls short of my idea of where it should be. Not knowing when to stop. Making my hand do what my mind sees. Accepting that my reach always so far exceeds my grasp that my work is never as beautiful or evocative or meaningful or hilarious as I envisioned it. Another continual challenge, because I like to work in several genres, is the art-categorization problem: am I a realist, a surrealist, an expressionist, an impressionist?  Personally, I don’t care. But art establishments often seem to. So, shall I try to apply myself more consistently to one identifiable stylistic category?

What in your artistic training do you value most in your work at this time?

Drawing skills and classical painting with its emphasis on integrity and variation in tones, line quality, planes, and masses: its approach to seeing and making artistic visions materialize in an actual work of art. I adore colours but find they can overpower the image, and I’m an image-maker more than a colour-field painter. Learning to pay attention not to everything but to what is most important at each stage of a process.

How much of a role do accident and control play in your work?

I think you use everything you’ve got in making an artwork work. Ability to use accident is a skill, too. Many of my art history idols had the whole “picture” in their minds before setting to work. I’m not like that. I usually have a general conception of what I want to do -- unless I’m just messing around and letting it rip (grunts of ideas for future use). Then I make some sort of work plan relating to my initial conception. This can be very loose and intuitive, working things out as I go along, or it can include detailed studies. Even then, the work itself always makes demands to change things as it progresses. Just trusting my impulses doesn’t work unless I gain some awareness of the direction they want to move in and can “see and feel” it. It’s a back-and-forth intellectual and visceral conversation. When the work is done, it usually surprises me.

What are some of your artistic challenges at present ?

Not trivializing what I want to do in art just because I want to do it. I still feel like an emerging artist in the public realm. I want others to view my work and have it communicate with them, but I’m challenged by how best to get my work “out there”. Making art and showing art seem to me to live in two different worlds. It’s hard for me to connect them.

What are some of your artistic accomplishments at present?

There are more public showings of my work. I just won a First Place in a broad competition juried by The Artist’s Magazine: the work is on their website and in their June-July issue. I recently had a show in a Toronto gallery and will have my first solo show and reception in Vancouver at the Zack Gallery (41st Ave.) on June 9th. As far the work itself goes, I think I’m getting better at making what I want to happen actually happen the way I want it to. But this is a finish-line one never crosses.

Can you share 3 things you’ve learned as an artist through your own art?

Big things come into play, like honesty and fearlessness in facing your vision and  humility in being with the process. Art provides a wonderful opening into a way of seeing things, even dark things, more clearly and sometimes even beautifully. I already knew about hard work and dedication from other work I’ve done, so this transferred itself into art-making. But, for me, an expansion and depth of vision that happens in art-making (and possibly in art-appreciation) that’s different from anything else.

When you need inspiration, how to do get it?

By opening my eyes. By closing my eyes. By looking at the world around me, at people, by thinking and feeling. It’s really not a problem for me to find inspiration. It’s more of a problem implementing it.

When you need to learn more as an artist, how do you do it?

I look at other artists’ work. I go to workshops. I talk with other artists about their works, sharing with them and getting their reactions to my work: the more specific, the better.

What’s exciting on your artistic horizon?

My open studio tour on May1-2 is at a different place than last year. I’m excited to see who will show up and what their reactions will be. I’m excited about my Vancouver solo show opening on June 9th. Thanks to the Zack gallery curator, Reisa Smiley Schneider, I get to show an evocative collection of works, Child Out of Time, as I would like them shown, including small bits of narrative text. It’s the first major series of related works I’ve done and they seem to live together in their own world.

What is it about this artwork (self-selected work shown) that led you to choose it for this feature?

I like its boldness and sassy humour. Its execution fits the idea that led to it, part of a painting series I’m working on, called Animal Lovers. I’m really enjoying turning these playful ideas into quasi-realistic images.  I hope others enjoy them too.