Making an exhibition – New Works from the Sea by Janette Kerr PRWA

As her new show goes on display today we caught up with President of the RWA Janette Kerr and asked her how she prepared for a big selling show like the one at the Cadogan Contemporary Gallery in London.

The work for my show started a year ago (well actually it started much longer ago if I consider all the travelling to Shetland and Norway since 2010).  Working for a solo show concentrates the mind. Galleries want to sell the work and I guess the artists also wants this, but the artist also want to make work that has integrity and that has taken their practice somewhere.  I do not want to continually re-gurgitate the same image no matter how much the gallery would like me to and I don’t want to paint in yellow just because a client would like a yellow painting (this was once asked of me by a gallery).

Drawing at Burra, Shetland

Drawing at Burra, Shetland

j in studio 1

Janette in her studio.

Making a piece of work takes time – sometimes the process involves getting lost, and allowing myself to be open to the experience of not knowing quite where I’m going or where I will arrive. It’s difficult to allow this – to inhabit uncertainty – when you have a gallery breathing down your neck demanding work. But it is part of the process of making work.

I have learnt that it is not a good idea to let a painting out of the gallery before it’s ready to leave (I don’t always get this right).  A visitor to my studio last week looked at a large painting I have been (and still am) working on and remarked that he thought it was finished…  but he doesn’t see what I see, or perhaps feel, about the work.  What the observer sees is never the same as the artist who sees the process, the layers, the intention and the ideas that have flowed in the process of making.  For me it wasn’t ready to leave, and is still in the studio. It won’t form part of this exhibition.

So, the work in my current show with Cadogan Contemporary has been made in my studios in Shetland and Somerset. It is the result of time spent walking on Shetland, observing the sea, travelling on the sea, making drawings and small plein air paintings, looking at the hills across from the Shetland studio  – moving between the painting and the landscape, watching the light and clouds shifting and trying to put that sense of movement and change onto the canvas.  The studios have been filled with paintings that I move between, sometimes one influencing the next.

Using deep canvases means that I do not have to frame the work, which is a relief as this would be yet another consideration (and expense). I simply paint the edges using a colour sympathetic to the painting.  Two weeks ago I started to put the D rings and cord on their backs, ready to wrap them for their departure. One of the last things I do is to title each work – this takes considerable time; I read poems, song lyrics, lines in books I’m reading, catch odd phrases on the radio, and I write them all down, and stare at the images I have made. Gradually their names emerge.  I write them on the reverse of paintings, and sign and date each (note to all artists – do not sign oil paintings with flamboyant signatures on the front – it can ruin a work!). Then I package them up; I now use Stiffy Bags and very large canvas bags that I have had made (another useful tip – write your name, address, email, and telephone number all over the bags so that the gallery won’t want to use them to give to their clients, and make sure you get them back – this is another expense that we artists incur).

It’s hard letting go of some of the paintings; they have been around for a year and now are leaving me. On the other hand they have been part of the studio too long and need to go. The next time I see them will be hanging on the wall of the gallery at the Private View and, as always, I will feel as though I’m hanging there with them, exposed to public scrutiny.

Now I have empty studios and am already thinking about the next drawing, the next painting…

Janette Kerr PRWA



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