You know our love for portraiture and deep conversations with rising artists of new contemporary art. So, we definitely need to interview Janne Kearney, an inspiring Australian artist specialized in realistic paintings. With both experience and a fresh eye, she explores the popularity of figurative art, the #Metoo movement and the freedom we need to keep alive for the younger generations.
You started painting late your life; did you have an artistic background before? What leaded you to paint in your 40s?
Like so many women, finances, family and life got in way, raising children, endlessly renovating houses and trying to get ahead meant there was no time, money or energy left for following dreams. I have no formal art training, I did life drawing on and off for many years.
As long as I could remember I had always wanted be an artist, so when I hit my mid 40s I realised it was now or never, I figured it would take 10 years to learn the craft. I came home from my mundane retail job and mentioned this to my husband, he very supportively said, “so do it, do it now, go quit your job and get started”! And that’s exactly what I did.
How do you think your experience of life has shaped your ambition, style and aesthetics?
Definitely life experiences for me have affected all of those things. At 56 there is no time to waste, so working hard and putting in the long hours is a must and tends to drive your ambitions. I am very mindful of producing work that is my own; my paintings ask the viewer to disregard preconceived perceptions of people, society and at times reality. I’m not afraid to express any narrative I feel passionate about, or experiment with new techniques such as my 3D paintings.
Do you think that your late artistic career is allowing you more freedom, more independence from all the boundaries that are inevitable for younger artists?
Yes and no, yes in the sense that I am free of the financial struggles younger artist may face and the fact that I am older and more established in life has enabled this level of freedom, that as a younger artist I would not have had. Thus allowing me the luxury to indulge in creating for myself and not galleries. I very rarely do commissions and vow to only paint what I want to paint and when I want to paint it.
No in the sense that as a self-taught middle-aged woman starting a serious art career, I have experienced ageism, sexism and condescension that younger and art school graduates may not. Being taken seriously and not considered a ‘hobby’ artist took quite some time to achieve.
I remember being told by an art teacher that figurative art and especially photorealistic portraits didn’t have their place in our contemporary world anymore since the invention of photography; what would you answer to that?
And according to you why is realistic portraiture popular again, both for the artists like you and also the public?
That makes no sense to me at all, I believe there is a place for all types of art, there is room for everyone, and each genre offers something interesting and different just as photorealist art does. I’m no expert but perhaps its return to popularity has something to do with its withdrawal from the so called art world for so long. I think artists and the public alike were getting sick of being told what they should and shouldn’t like, and what was good or bad art. There are a lot of artists and people that value the effort and skills required to create realist work, and the public had had a gut full of fast art, they were hungry for, and eager to embrace highly skill slow art.
You seem to focus a lot on the young generation: why? And what are you trying to tell about these young girls and boys with the way you show them, with sport clothes in urban surroundings?
I feel the youth of today often get misunderstood and are too often maligned, in my day we were often silenced and told to obey and respect elders and authority. I want this generation to question everything and everyone, to be brave and bold and break the culture of treacherous conformity and the blatant betrayal of those with power over the vulnerable. I paint my subjects in environments that they can relate to, places where they may run to, to feel safe, or a place where they can express themselves and their art.
You are portraying women of all kinds, all ages: what do you want to say about contemporary women through these paintings?
It’s pretty simple really, I want women to be and do what they want, when they want, where ever they want, and to be respected equally, to have no limits placed upon them by prior misogynistic, cultural and societal expectations.
One of your paintings has attracted a lot of attention as the model has “Me too” written on her hand: is it related to the Me Too movement and what is the meaning of this particular portrait?
The painting Me too represents my younger self as a victim of sexual harassment and abuse, depicting my struggle with fear, powerlessness, withdrawal and secrecy. Boxed into a world of subjection where the darkness of the world engulfs your light, making it impossible to see a brighter future.
Tarana Burke started “Me Too” Campaign Against Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment 10 Years Ago, today it has become a hashtag, it is empowering girls and women to come forward and show the world the magnitude of this problem. This is a conversation we need to be having with our boys, teaching them what is and is not an acceptable way to treat women both socially and in the workplace, our men need to be accountable and open. The ‘Me too’ movement has gained much traction and created great empathy towards women, we need to keep the message alive to reach real change in men’s attitudes towards women.
What are you proud of in your artistic career? And what are the next steps for you (exhibitions, projects, etc)?
I am proudly represented by Flinders Lane Gallery Melbourne, I have won numerous awards and have been a finalist in over 60 prestigious National and International Art Prizes and exhibited in Italy, Spain, USA, and throughout the UK. I was a finalist in the BP Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery, London, receiving over 2,700 entries from 93 countries, the award is regarded as the worlds ‘Portraiture Oscars’. My painting was used as the artwork for the official invitations.
Last year I was awarded the prestigious San Diego, FWSD ARC Award, an international traveling award, visiting prestigious galleries in LA, New York, San Diego, MEAM, (European Museum of Modern Art), Barcelona, only 7 artists chosen from 3750 entries from 69 countries. The ARC is the most important realist painting prize in the US and the Americas.
I am currently working on a new series of paintings called ‘Eye candy’, it’s very different from my previous works. It’s my backlash against conservatism towards women. It’s time to start respecting women’s decisions about what they wear and how they act. To stop victim shaming and blaming, and allow women to celebrate their bodies and sexuality without shame or social repercussion. Preaching ideals of modesty, is just another method of control, do what you want, be who you want and be safe doing it.
‘I will not be judged by you or society. I will wear whatever and blow whomever I want as long as I can breathe—and kneel’.
— Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), Sex and the City, Season 5: Cover Girl