In the studio with Janet Botes

by Sam Rietmann

the studio of artist Janet Botes

SR: Originally you are from Gauteng, what prompted the move to Cape Town?

It was a natural move, from Pretoria to the Cape. In standard eight I came here on holiday with my parents and I said ‘This
is where I am going to live’. Later when I was working in Joburg I met my husband. And while he was in Holland for studies
he said ‘When I come back, why not move to Cape Town?’ and I just said ‘Great yes’.

Artist Janet Botes

SR: How did you find the move - how was your art received?

It was challenging moving from Pretoria down to the Cape. Things are very conservative in Pretoria and the art I was doing
in a sense reflected that. I was doing stillife paintings onto old bread boards that I found in small little pawn shops and
people loved it. And when I came here (to the Cape) I immediately saw that that was not going to fly here - people don’t want
the crafty stuff. That was when I started to look at some of my older works and found landscape photographs from my student
days and started to use them and layer paintings and drawings on top. I've had to experiment quite a bit with my techniques,
but people seem to love the layering aspect of the prints.

limited edition prints by Janet Botes

SR: Well the layering aspect of your work is one of the characteristics that really makes your landscapes so
beautiful and visually interesting but why do you choose to use  landscapes as your main subject matter?
When we went away on holiday as kids I would always take a camera. I loved taking pictures but when we came back and I
developed the film my mother would ask ‘Where are all the people? There are just landscapes and animals.’  My dad
comes from the Northern Cape, from Upington, and so we spent a lot of holidays up there. My grandfather’s farm has
always been one of my favourite places, and then anything else in-between there and the Cape. Also places like Augrabies
and the Cederberg have always been magical places to me. Landscapes for me have good memories and a unique essence
attached to them. I also often create art in the landscape by doing land art with a group of artists. 

SR: A land art group? Tell me more.

Janet Ranson and I founded a Land art group. She initiated it and now we run it together. There is a core group of artists
that come regularly and then anyone else who wants to join is welcome. We make an excursion every month where we go into
the land and make art in the landscape by working with the natural materials. For example you could go up onto Signal Hill and
find things rocks, leaves, branches with which you create an installation or a sculpture, take a picture of it and then you are done
- you have made a piece of land art.

SR: What got you interested in land art?

I was introduced to Strijdom van de Merwe's work when I was still in Standard 9 and I thought it was beautiful. So I started
doing my own little experiments and installations in the garden. Over the years it’s just became more and more and bigger and
bigger. I guess I just fell in love with land art.

Land art by Janet Botes

SR: When you go out to produce a piece of land art with the land art group, do you go with some sort of plan?

You don’t go with a plan. You go, and see, and then you respond to what you find. Mostly it's individual work but sometimes
people work together. The whole idea is to create a platform for everyone to respond.
It is an opportunity to explore. It is not about the art work or us getting together or anything specific - whatever you need from it
you take from it. The only rule is leave no negative trace.

SR: And when you work in the studio do you have a similar ‘go and see what’s there’ approach to creating? 

Yip. I almost always have simultaneous projects on the go. At one stage I felt really bad about it.I have so many unfinished projects
and I really put myself down for it before realising that I shouldn’t. Simultaneous projects are just the way that I work and each
 one of them will either get finished or grow into anything else. I have a very organic approach to creating. 

SR: Was it a childhood dream to become an artist?

When I was at school and people asked me what I wanted to become it was always one of three things - either an artist or an
air hostess (cause then I would see the world) or a game ranger. At some stage though someone said ‘you are not going to make
money as an artist, you need a backup’ so then I picked graphic design as the "safe option". In high school I chose all my subjects
with that in mind. Then in Matric my father offered me the chance to study Fine Art. By that stage though, I had been so brainwashed
that I said ‘No, its fine. I will just study graphic design.’

SR: So you went and studied graphic design. When did you make the switch to become a full time artist?

I worked in graphic design and became very unhappy... then again it was my dad reminding me that graphic design was always
only the backup plan, not the dream. Art has always been the dream.It’s taken me years to get where I am now because I kept
going back to doing graphic design since it was 'easy money' -  the people already want what I am selling. To make art and sell it
is difficult because you don’t know if people are going to like it. If it fails and that was your dream, what do you have left? 
That is what makes it so scary.

SR: How did you overcome that fear?

Who says I have overcome it?   It is a day to day  thing and you have to use every tool at your disposal. I read a lot of books like
The Power of Now and The Artists Way to keep myself motivated and to find or develop  tools to overcome that fear. If you keep
yourself busy and inspired you don’t go into a negative spiral where you think ‘I am not good enough. That didn’t sell.That person
didn’t like my work’. If you just keep going and figuring things out not saying ‘I failed’ but rather ‘How do I make this work. How
do I approach this differently.’ you will be successful. The world is full of people, full of projects and markets and platforms,
 you just have to be brave enough to go and find them.

Detail from Landscaping Of The Ancients by Janet Botes

SR: That is really valuable advice for anyone wanting to be successful; do you have any other advice for aspiring

Actually there is something Strijdom said the other day at his latest solo exhibition - he said ‘Just do your art.’
Just do your art, really be true to what you want to do and go for it. If you then get a bad review by a critic it really doesn’t matter
because you are doing what you want to do and no one can touch you.  If you are doing something because you are thinking of
‘This is going to sell. Or that person will like this’, then you are not being true to yourself. If then someone gives you a bad review,
you will be broken about it ‘cause you tried so hard to please someone else. You need to make yourself happy. That being said,
you also have to be realistic and make sure your basic bills are covered. If you have to do a bit of commercial work on the side
then do it - I mean, most artists have to do something extra like teaching. I do my graphic design and I produce art. I have a
commercial range as well as doing commissions.

SR: And lastly when you are not involved in your land art group or producing work - what do you love doing?

I love hiking and trail running. BUT my husband has changed me into a bit of a couch potato. This New Years Eve we spent
watching Harry Potter movies and drinking bubbly.

Artist Janet Botes on the beach

SR: A Harry Potter fan? Which do you prefer- the books or the movies? 
I loved the books. At first I wasn’t sure about the whole Harry Potter vibe but then we were on a camping trip and my sister had
one of the books with her. I was super bored and it was raining so I just took up the book and started reading … and it was fantastic.
And then I eventually went and brought all of them. They are incredible.  The movies are also pretty good.

SR: They are good fun, what other film do you enjoy?

I love psychological thrillers or dramas like ‘The Scribbler’. And adventure movies like National Treasure and the series Relic Hunter!
Stories that involve some sort of mission.

View Janet's Portfolio