StateoftheART brings you an exclusive interview with artist Janet Dirksen from her new home studio in Somerset West.
Janet’s emotional landscape paintings explores man’s influence and connection with nature, the sky and earth, expressed by using an atmospheric effect. Her works are vehicles for contemplation or meditation, creating space for the viewers spiritual activity.
See Janet's paintings for sale here>
Read our interview with Janet below and watch a short film as she creates one of her paintings:
When and how did your painting journey start?
I've always been painting. I did painting in Matric and I used to catch four buses a day to get to the art school and back. I started work as a textile designer in the textile industry – on the household textile side - for approximately 10 years. I was then promoted to a product manager, and worked for about 26 years. I’ve worked for David Whiteheads, Da Gama and Frame Textiles. I really enjoyed it, I travelled the world and had exhibitions overseas, it was fabulous.
The textile industry, as you probably know, is not thriving anymore in this country because of the cheap imports. So when that happened, I had to look at alternatives and I started painting as an artist. I trained with Pascale Chandler in Durban - she is fabulous. She really is. I trained with her on and off for about 5 years, and because I was in Prince Albert at times, we even did lessons virtually - she was kind enough to do that for me.
I think painting is a gift, a God given gift and I'm just doing what He wants me to do and that gives other people pleasure. That's how I look at it anyway. It's almost like something comes out of the painting, I've just got to find it. I don't ever start with knowing what the final painting is going to look like. I need that, I like the excitement and I like being surprised at the end of the day as well. That is what keeps it alive and interesting. It would be so boring for me if I just had to copy every painting from a picture.
Walk us through your creative process: how do you ideate, plan and paint your landscapes?
I start by just putting a base down so it's not a bright white canvas. I leave these little gaps so that when you paint over, you start to get a different variation and a difference in texture and light. Sometimes you see it more than others, there will be little bits that will peek through. It gives layers and different dimensions.
The places that I paint don’t exist exactly. Instead, I focus on soaking up the atmosphere of a place and what it was like to be there. It's like my subconscious representation of the place. I take photographs of places I visit and they spark the colour and the light of my paintings - more than what is actually there. There are trees but they are different, it's the feel that I paint. It’s about atmosphere, the light, colour, texture and mark making. It’s the ambiguity of abstraction that delights me.
I’m not a realistic painter. So it is more poetry and rhythm, what works in each painting. Finding the way, finding the right notes. Painting intuitively: they are inner landscapes inspired by outer landscapes.
It is also spatial, it's breathing, it's light. I think the big influence for that was the Karoo. In the Karoo, it’s slow living - you have to slow down, live with yourself in that quiet environment. It is a really good place to get a lot of work done - away from the rat race. We used to go to Prince Albert in the Karoo for six months of the year and then spend six months of the year in Durban. And one time we were there permanently. It is fabulous. I started painting skies because of Prince Albert, because the skies there are phenomenal. You just don't get that in Durban - you get grey skies.
Space. The Karoo is all about space.
How do you know when the painting is finished?
You just know. New artists never know when it's finished, but you've got to learn to know. You've got to step away from that painting before you destroy it. Because they can be so overworked so quickly.
You want to retain the freshness, life and essence of the painting.
How many paintings do you work on at a time?
One. I don't like to work on a few. I know a lot of people do it, like a production line. I can’t, I like to focus on one at a time. And I'm not happy until I’ve finished it, even if it takes forever.
You have just moved to your new home in the Western Cape – what does your painting routine look like now?
Well, I show up, for one. That is very important - whether you want to or not, no matter how you feel, or if you think it's not working. Sometimes you do get a bit nervous about it because you can't see the way forward. Then you start and it comes, it all just comes. Inspiration finds you working.
Moving here has been amazing, I absolutely love it. I think this new environment will change my art quite drastically. The different nature influences: the mountains, the vineyards. I think I'm going to start painting vineyards! There are beautiful walks, I’m just going to soak it all up. On the estate we've got huge, beautiful dams and lots of birds and it's all going to come into play in my painting, it has to, all your influences do.
Have you ever struggled with creative block?
I've never had a block - luckily for me - and I've been painting and doing art all my life in one form or another. But on a particular painting, sometimes you get stuck and you just don't know the way forward. And what I've found – and this is where Pascale really helped me - is you trash it, you actually trash the painting, and then you see different things in it and you start again within that painting. But you've got to be brave to do it, it could be a disaster, but sometimes they end up being the best paintings at the end of the day.
Do you have any plans going forward?
Nothing at the moment, to be honest. Just settling in, I'll worry about that next year. Give myself a chance. It's been a hectic year, I had 35 paintings for my solo exhibition. It's a lot of work and after this move I need a break and to take the time to enjoy my beautiful new environment and home.
See Janet Dirksen's available paintings for sale >