Janette Kerr | North

November 21, 2018 12:21 pm Published by


by Janette Kerr

I’ve been working in northern landscapes for the last twenty years. These are landscapes replete with history and memories, changes over geological time, forces of nature, glacially eroded topography, all of which suggests a mutability of place. Perhaps making a drawing or painting in such environments is a sort of collaborative act – it becomes a dialogue between artist and place.

My studio paintings start with work made en plein air, drawing in sketchbooks and scraps of paper, small paintings on boards, notes about weather and sea states, observations of colours and sounds. I’ve drawn whilst travelling in cars through mountain passes, painted crouching on rocks by the sea, and on the sea clinging to the sides of a tiny ferry to Out Skerries, waves washing over the deck as we pitched and rolled in a force 8.

I’ve sat in snow painting, while my fingers slowly freeze until I can’t feel them, and been blown across hills by gusts of wind, drenched by spray and sleet, arriving home with salt-encrusted skin.

Drawing on a boat in the midst of a heaving sea and feeling sick, is a very different proposition to being on cliffs and rocks looking at the sea, even if it is blowing a gale. Surrounded by a living mass of water, the world tips, the horizon disappearing and reappearing. Attempting to put down what is ‘out there’ in this a vast fluid dynamic environment – shifting with every turn of my head and passing cloud, on a small intimate piece of paper or board – seems mad, doomed to fail.

What do you do when confronted with an immense glacier in a landscape of ice and mist and towering mountains on a tall ship shifting and turning as wind whips through sails? How do you make work that reflects the muted palette of the Arctic landscape – a thunder grey and pale blue world? How can white be so many different shades?



It’s this physical immersion in landscape, the resonance between an internalized world and an external one that I’m after, and as I draw and paint, it spills out onto the page – active engagements with landscape, intuitive responses reflecting energy and confusion, fleeting moments – that particular turquoise colour that suddenly appears.

Hand poised above my board, the moment before I make a line, I occupy liminal position between place and mark, between inner and outer state. These are not accurate topographical depictions, but more about reflecting movement through time, what is sensed – I can’t say even understood.

Conversations with fishermen and story-tellers of the sea, with oceanographers who talk about wave trajectories and extremes waves and show me oceanographic diagrams and algebraic formulae, have played a role in the making of my studio paintings (look close and you might and an extreme wave formulae hidden amongst the waves). And through my own history and engagement with the sea, I too am embedded in these paintings.

Drawing’s virtue is that it can be unstable and fluid; so to is my painting. A painting can be highly controlled, delicate, they can be automatic and chaotic, a wild act, a response to chance encounters. Drawings and paintings made in my studio don’t – can’t – have the immediacy of work made en plein air; they may hint at or evoke a ‘physical reality’, equally they might be more about what I think I saw or imagined, making them even more elusive or suggestive of the transitory nature of the sea, and perhaps then a truer interpretation.

All these encounters provide a kind of ‘polyvocal’ aspect to my work, within them a fusion of memories and impressions, narratives and imagination, and a growing understanding of nature.

Janette Kerr 2018



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