Jane Hunt discusses positive emotions, chaos in the serenity, serenity in the chaos, and getting her vision out on the canvas.
Jane’s work is now on view at Turner Fine Art in Art That Inspires: A Curated Show of Master Painters, through September 28th.
Where are you from?
I was born in the Peak District, in the north of England. Then I moved to London when I was little, about 5. Then I moved to the US when I was a teenager and I ended up going to art school in Cleveland, OH at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Where do you live now?
I live west of Denver, in the foothills.
How did you become interested in art? When was that?
It’s pretty much been my focus my entire life. My parents were huge art lovers and because I grew up in Europe, it was easy to hop all over the place to art museums. I drew constantly and I was always in trouble at school for doodling.
I actually went to [college] for illustration on the commercial side of things. I had no idea you could be a fine artist. It took me a while to figure that out, but I eventually switched over to fine art. I didn’t like having to create someone else’s vision. I wanted to come up with my own vision.
How would you describe the content of your work for this exhibition?
The mood is the connective thread in this exhibition. I am trying to create a restful positive experience with the composition, subject, and color harmony. I don’t want to dictate what people feel when they see it, but my aim is to evoke positive emotions. I feel like it’s more expansive and connective than negative ones.
In this exhibition, do you have a favorite piece? Why?
I am most proud of Winter Aspens. It was an infuriating piece; it was not a painting that flowed easily. I just kept re-working it and I kept persevering on it and eventually it worked the way I had envisioned it. I was trying to get a specific effect and finally arrived there, but it was a battle.
What mediums do you work with?
I use water-mixable oils, which is a little unusual. I use Winsor & Newton Artisan brand which I love. Basically, they are the same as regular oils, but they adjust one molecule so they can mix and clean up with water. They allow you to work solvent-free and it makes it easier to travel.
What techniques do you employ to get the results you want?
I always have a really strong value plan. It’s really important and comprised of just a few large shapes. Then I paint with these very thin dark washes. I lighten the value and add thicker paint as the piece progresses. I love to paint peaceful scenes but I like them to have a little edginess. I feel like there’s chaos in the serenity and vice versa. So I like to scrape and gouge – close up my paintings are really destroyed, but if you step back they’re thoroughly peaceful. I like that dichotomy.
Your clouds and shadows seem to dance across the canvas. How do achieve this liveliness in such seemingly calm scenes?
I would say one thing that I do is that I am really meticulous in the planning stages with the value plans. Because of that, it’s totally intuitive when I get to the clouds. I don’t need to figure out the color or the value – it’s all about the flow and the paint application. So I just get super energetic with the application and you can feel that. It looks like these paintings get whipped out really fast, but it’s this laborious planning ahead of time that allows that to happen.
What is the most important tool you use?
A palette knife. I absolutely love them, they’re super versatile. You can lay down clean passages of color, you can break the edges. I use them to create texture. A lot of the energy you see is from just going nuts with the palette knife.
What pleases you about the process?
I love the challenge of trying to bring forth the vision in my head. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it’s incredibly exciting. I can really get in the flow as if the painting is really flowing through me and I am merely the vessel. It is an opportunity to connect with something larger than myself. A good painting day is meditative and incredibly fulfilling.
What is most challenging about the process?
The flow only happens very sparingly. So mostly it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of trial and error. And it’s really frustrating to realize I don’t have all the tools to create the vision in my head. I’m still developing the skills. I have a vision in my head, but I don’t know how to pull it off yet.
How do you approach your work?
More than anything it’s about emotion. A scene will strike me and then I have to paint it. I do these exhaustive planning stages and I won’t paint until I have a well-formed composition and value. Sometimes I spend more time on the preliminary stages than on the actual the painting. With that in place, I can then loosen up and paint intuitively.
How do you decide what to paint?
It’s really a feeling, though I probably won’t get a feeling to paint a tractor. That’s just not me. It’s generally a landscape, something about it is calming or nostalgic or just bringing forth positive emotion. Beyond that, it has to have a strong value pattern. It has to have enough shapes, enough interesting technical stuff. If a scene has what I need technically, then I am in the realm of emotion at that point.
If it doesn’t have the emotional piece, then it won’t hold my attention to spend time painting it. Most of the painters I know would disagree with me, and maybe it’s my illustration background, but most of the painters I know talk in terms of shapes and not things. And that’s one place I am a little bit different from most people. I think things are important as symbols and we have connections with them. For example, if I see a weeping willow, I am really drawn to it because it reminds me of my childhood and I really want to paint it as a central focus of the painting. If I just look at it as shapes and I refuse to let myself think of it as a weeping willow, then I have lost my attachment to it. It’s both the thing and the shape, the technical and emotional married together.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would say its an amalgam of several things: tonalism, impressionism, and romanticism. Ultimately it’s about the emotion it evokes. Romanticism is an unpopular thing in modern art, but for me, it’s about the poetic side of things.
How does your environment inform your work?
I paint about 50% indoors and 50% outdoors. I am more of a tonalist and even though we have a lot of sunlight and crisp light in Colorado, I prefer to paint on an overcast day. I love mountains, but I don’t find them particularly calming. Maybe that’s why I don’t generally pick them as essential themes. They’re mostly a backdrop in pieces, you’ll see there’s just a hint of them.
What subject have you painted the most?
Definitely, my favorite things to paint are clouds and sunsets. The sunsets, in particular, are a common theme. I feel like they represent comfort and the promise of a new beginning. They’re kind of symbolic as an opportunity for personal and spiritual reflection. That is why I am drawn to them, I think. That it’s a positive powerful connected feeling. Something that everyone has a reaction to.
What do you do when you’re stuck on a piece?
I try to remind myself that this is just a process and the inspiration will ebb and flow. I try to push through and keep painting. If I am really stuck and feel like it’s going nowhere, I might go for a walk or take a break, go for a change of scenery and paint outside or something. For the most part, it passes, and it’s just a temporary state.
What are you currently inspired by (reading, listening, other)?
I am inspired by a friend who is a great tonalist painter and he sent me this book. It’s David Cleveland’s “A History of American Tonalism: Crucible of American Modernism.” It’s incredible. Tonalism is always downplayed in the art world and the book explores its origins and how it shaped modernism in America.
What do you do besides your art?
I spend a lot of time with my husband and my two kids. I love to travel and I love to teach, so I am just starting to combine those things with teaching overseas.
What is your favorite destination?
I am really biased. My favorite place in the whole world is the Peak District in the north of England. It’s where my family lives and where I am from originally. I still think it’s the most beautiful place in the world.
What was your favorite museum growing up?
Probably the Marmottan in Paris, France. They have a lot of Monets and Monet was always a favorite from when I was a child. I love the Tate Britain and it was really close to where I grew up.
What’s your favorite quote?
“To feel the fear and do it anyway.” I feel like that applies to most of life. But it’s super helpful to bear in mind for painting because it’s such an intense process. All kinds of emotions come up and I just try to see it as part of the experience and not let it limit the creativity.
This conversation with Jane Hunt has been edited for brevity and clarity.