“The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.”
~ Pablo Picasso
have been accused, and not altogether unfairly, of nursing a bias towards figurative art. Perhaps it’s the lover of stories in me, the writer, the former librarian, ever passionately drawn to narrative.
But might abstract art also offer a compelling story for the viewer?
Consider the paintings of Jeane Meyers, whose works leap out to us like a jolt of lightning, communicating as directly as if sketched out in words.
INTERVIEW WITH JEANE MEYERS, ABSTRACT MIXED-MEDIA ARTIST
Port Townsend, Washington ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Jeane, in your work you seem to be conveying a message to us about courage. In many of your pieces, there’s this strike of intensity: a streak of gold, or electric blue… And then surrounding this flash: expressions of calm. As if you are giving us permission to be fully alive, to follow our passion, and yet reassuring the viewer that we can do so within an embrace of peace. Not competing with our surroundings, but in harmony with, acting as part of the whole.
Am I just reading all this into your work or is any of this at all close to what you had intended?
Jeane Meyers: You just nailed my work with that. You are probably one of the first persons who has ever expressed it the way I feel when I’m painting. And yet I have never put this out to the public that way because when I listen to you, what you felt is pretty hard to put into words.
I’m very passionate about my work. Very serious about it. Not about myself so much, but the work. Because its my voice. My work is very personal.
If my work goes out there and it doesn’t knock people on their ass, I feel like I haven’t been honest.
[quote]This world we walk in every day is not all ugly, it’s not all beautiful; it is both these things in combination, and I don’t think any of that should be cured. My work is about who we are as a species. If the evil is there, then it’s there. We deal with that. We live and cope within certain boundaries, which are there so we can maneuver in the world.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you share a bit about your process? How does this understanding move through you and take physical form?
Jeane Meyers: When I go into work ~ and I work almost every day, I’m one of those artists who can’t work more than two or three hours and then I’m pretty well spent and I can’t work after that ~ I peruse the space very quickly, very, very quickly, when I’m walking through, and my peripheral vision will spot something that no longer resonates with me and that’s my starting point.
If I walk through [my studio] and everything still resonates with me, then I’m doing new work that day.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Wait. So if you don’t connect with one of your works sitting in your studio, then you know that’s your landing spot for the day? That’s where you want to put your attention?
Jeane Meyers: Yes. My work is very layered, it can have two to twenty layers, it depends.
So if I’m working on a ‘new’ piece, that work is started by slipping on my rubber garden gloves and gathering together my ‘tools’: oil paint, cold wax, walnut oil, and I have just started using in the last six months dry pigment, which I have a love affair with. And I work with seven colors only.
And because I don’t clean off my brushes, there will be layers of oil paint and my special mediums, and then I’m scratching with my knife and using it to cut through the work.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me more about the knife?
Jeane Meyers: I use two very small pallet knives and I also have a putty knife that I use as a major scraping tool, and a lot of those scrapings go right back onto the surface.
I’m a wet-on-wet painter. Once I start working, I don’t wait for it to dry, cuz that’s kind of thrilling, because you never know what’s going to happen. I actually pour on the walnut oil immediately after I put on the cold wax. I could die tomorrow, I don’t have time to wait around for things to dry. [chucking]
I’m creating texture, that’s my thing, I love texture ~ love seeing it and having the ability to create it.
I just finished reworking practically a whole show that I had last year ~ things that didn’t sell or no longer resonate with me, so I started picking them up and reworking them. And I really enjoyed this so much. My work is so layered.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: It’s like working on a poem. You can start with an idea, a vision, but then if you’re unhappy with where it goes, you step away from it for awhile. Maybe for a year, maybe even longer. And then when you encounter it again in your journal, after you’ve moved to a different place in your psyche, you can now approach it with fresh “eyes.” The conversation continues. You can’t do this quite so easily with figurative work, this layering.
So it’s a dialog for you.
Jeane Meyers: Exactly. That’s exactly right, and it could be years, [quote]it’s like a diary, a visual diary, and it records where I was on that certain day, and even though I may in time move on and cover that up, it’s still there, and I know it’s there, so even and when I cover it up, I believe that those layers still rise to the top. I believe that it all lives in that piece, and that it all speaks together, even though you may not be able to see what was there last week or two years ago, it’s still there.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How long have you been creating like this?
Jeane Meyers: Well, to give you an idea: [quote]When I was in the second grade, I knew I was going to be an artist. But my teacher told me that you can’t be an artist because you can’t draw. And because when a teacher tells you something, you believe them, I put my art away.[/quote]
I spent about twenty years in theater, including improv, which was really like a great big rehearsal. That risk that comes when you have nothing to start with and you just made something.
I started directing, loved it, but it was more about moving things around on the stage ~ like I do with my paintings. I worked with young playwrights…
And during that time, I painted on and off, privately. Just for myself. Then, at last, I put the theater away. I said to myself, Ok, I have done that, and I am now ready to do this thing that I love so much.
So I’m late. I’m 68 years old. And all I want to do is this. I think about it when I go to bed at night, and it’s there soon as I wake up, and I can’t wait to get back into it again.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And yet if you look at your art-making process as metaphor for your entire life, you can see that it’s been in you all along, your love affair with painting has affected all the layers of your life.
Jeane Meyers: Yeah. And it’s a risk thing. And theater’s all about risk. You learn what that feels like to peel all those layers back and it’s just raw as you stand there in another skin. A lot of people never allow themselves the opportunity to experience such risk.
Even artists ~ it terrifies most to take something they created, a good painting, a strong painting, and strip it down. But for me it’s not about whether it’s good or bad but can I take it to another level?
[quote]And I gotta tell you that 90 percent of my pieces don’t succeed, but it’s that 10 percent, that’s where the fulfillment is, the whole idea that the risk was worth everything. Even when it turned into ‘awful.’ Because now I’ve got an even greater challenge. A new starting place. And that’s where my work begins.[/quote]
So I just stay with it until it has my voice. Because you really can’t get to the good stuff until you get through the bad. And eventually I do get to the good stuff, even if it may be, like, two years down the road.
[quote]I’ve always believed that the painting is there if you’re willing to do the work and put in the time. It’s there if you believe.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And what constitutes a failed work? What does ‘awful’ look like?
Jeane Meyers: I guess it isn’t so much that it has failed, but that it no longer has my current voice in it.
A gallery just sold a piece of mine that I’d had on my easel for a long time. It was a good piece but it had stopped resonating with me. Well, that piece just sold. My gallery owner said, “No, people just love this piece!” I’m trying to figure out what it is about that piece, and the best I can come up with is that it doesn’t represent my true voice. Now.
It’s a question I get asked a lot. “Well, it’s abstract, you know. Isn’t just the marks enough?” But my work is not random. I’m an intuitive painter. Every single mark in there I have to truly feel came from inside me. We see and experience things as we go about our daily lives and all of that gets internalized and that’s what’s coming up through to the surface. A piece of me. And it’s at last finished when I can stand back and say, “Oh my god, I did that?”
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Maybe for you there also has to be this other element of something that is even bigger than yourself. And is it enough for you yourself to feel astonished? Can the person purchasing a work of yours simply find it aesthetically pleasing to behold?
Jeane Meyers: Well I don’t want my work to feel comfortable. Yeah I think you’ve got it. That’s a good way to put it. Oh, even talking about it is abstract.
Ninety-nine percent of the time people will say something like, “Oh, look! That’s a cat! That’s the seashore!” I would never say that’s wrong,
My mom, for example. does not share my world. The other day she saw a painting at my studio, and went, “Ooo! ooh! ooh! Can I have that?” And so now she has it up hanging in her house and whenever people come by, she will tell them that, “This was painted by my daughter. Can you see those three cats looking out the window?” And between you and me, there are no three cats, no cats at all in that painting. But that is what she sees and that’s why she loves the piece. Because it’s a picture of three cats looking out the window.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your work triggered very different associations for your mom, her mind made its own unique connections.
Jeane Meyers: Yes, and for me it is enough that she found her way in.
Art is a hard thing to put into a box, that’s why I admire someone like you trying to put art into a form we are able to consume. Because as consumers we’re lazy.
I think what people need is accessibility to the artist. Whether its an artist demo or an artist giving classes, I do believe that when people are purchasing art, they are purchasing a piece of the artist. Basically I look at it like they have a piece of me and and that they have chosen to put this in their home, in their personal space, well, I feel humbled and honored.
Jeane Myers is a contemporary abstract and mixed media artist living in Port Townsend, WA.
Prior to this, she was involved in theatre as an actor/director for over 20 years.
To view more of her artwork, please visit her website.