MEDITATIVE PRACTICE HAS BECOME MY COUNTRY: A Micro-Interview with Janet Pierce
ES: I’m sure I’m not the first to suggest a connection between this work and that of Mark Rothko, though with a more luminous dimension. They appeared to be shot through with light. I understand this is achieved by incorporating silver and gold leaf into your watercolors, materials you came across living part of the year in India. Could you explain a little about what drew you to working in this form of mixed media?
JP: Gold is the metal used in all spiritual traditions as it seems to contain the most light, lead being the opposite. Silver also seems to contain the light of the moon. I have always had a spiritual nature and it is the light of ‘the Supreme soul’ that I aim to convey in my work. For me, life is always about transcendence, doing my best to travel from dark to light. The dark could be personal or cosmic, but that for me is the meaning behind my work and life. I start of with watercolour and then deepen the colour with pastel ending with applied silver or gold, depending on the piece.
I spend several months is India and have done so for 8 years. I frequently exhibit there. Indians love gold and use it for decoration and dowry and its spiritual value. I get the gold and silver leaf from the sweet shops as it is also used in cake decoration.
Watercolour has inherently a beautiful quality of light. It is my favourite medium. In this new work I mix watercolour, print, pastel and gold or silver, but I know I will never stop painting in watercolour.
ES: All of the images we feature here are the result of a collaboration with the poet, Sudeep Sen, some published in small volume of text and image, Ladakh, and several that will be exhibited this Fall in New Delhi. Can you tell our readers a little about your work in collaboration?
JP: Ladakh is a remote state in northern India, a place Sudeep Sen had visited prior to seeing an exhibition of my paintings in New Delhi. He recognised some quality in my work that he understood and he approached me and suggested we collaborate on a book together. I cannot say his poetry informed my work as such; it is more that our concerns, our understanding of the world, and many of our personal experiences resonate with each other.
ES: You have lived in several places, your migration from Scotland to America, to settling in Ireland and Goa, part of the year. Would you share something of your experience in uprooting and starting over in several places and how it has influenced your practice?
JP: Yes, migration has impacted my life and therefore my work. I think basically, when you leave your birth country, you can never again feel you understand the society you live in instinctively, it is always a learned response. This makes for more emotional insecurity and an outsider’s point of view that is inevitably unique. Emigration is so overwhelming. Immigrants stick together at first, in order to feel secure. But when you have emigrated many times as I have, you then have to look elsewhere for your emotional security. This makes for an intense learning experience where you must notice and reflect more in order to survive. This is a very hard, but leaves room for a creative space to fill. For me it is my faith and my meditative practice that has become my country, and indelibly connected to my work as is my affinity with the work of Sudeep Sen. All mystics speak the same language. I find I am at home with all spiritual seekers, in all parts of the world. For example, I had a very intense spiritual experience with a group of Muslim women in a Shia mosque in Syria, even though I follow the teachings of an Indian guru, Sri Vasudeva. I also had an equally intense spiritual experience with Scottish psalm singers in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Similarly listening to Sufi singing in praise of the Supreme Soul in a mosque in Delhi or the Russian orthodox church service in London. These experiences all find a way into the work.
ES: The new work seem to have a lot of heat in it, intense colors. One I was particularly drawn to is “Sun Burn,” using a burnt orange. This is a palette you have in common with the artists Howard Hodkins who was also deeply influenced with time spent living in India.
JP: I agree. The first image, you’ve selected, does, indeed have a good deep colours, and, yes, heat. All three of the new works you show here, take their names from a brief, haiku-like poems of Sudeep Sen. This one is “Sun Burn:”
“Skin smarts sweaty – acrid
air crackles the deep heat of
the slow salving salt”
Sen’s text will accompany the art works in an exhibition this Fall at the Ark Arts Gallery in New Delhi.
Janet Pierce studied at Edinburgh College of Art and Moray House, Edinburgh from 1965-1969 and had her first solo exhibition in the Everhart Museum, Scranton, Pennsylvania. After four years in America she moved to Ireland where she has since lived and worked, while keeping in touch with her native Scotland. Pierce’s first solo exhibition in Ireland was in the Arts Council Gallery, Belfast since when she has continued to exhibit in Solo and Group exhibitions in Ireland, U.K,India and in the U.S. Pierce was Regional Arts Officer, Fermanagh District Council from 1982-86 and in the following years was a guest artist at the Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh; guest lecturer at Edinburgh University; Arts Officer, Scottish Arts Council, Edinburgh and part-time lecturer in Fine Art, Painting, NCAD Dublin and at DLCADT, Dunlaoighaire before becoming Education Officer at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin. Pierce has collaborated with the traditional singers, Maighread and Triona NÃ Dhomhnaill, and more recently with the poet, editor and artist, Sudeep Sen. For more information visit: janetpierce.com.