Janet Treby Biography

For Janet, being human is about wondrous imagination, the musing of gods, and the observation of all that is magical in nature. Her work portrays the mysteries of beauty and love. There are two central themes in her work; firstly the dichotomy of action and tranquility, and secondly, the liberation of the human spirit from material restraint. Her study of figures in motion show their attempt to escape from earthly confines; released from constraining shackles they are delivered into an ethereal land, a world in which humans frolic and fly to the tune of the wind. “I’ve always been fascinated by movement and the way the body works. In my work I have been able to create a mixture of reality and fantasy by contorting the body and manipulating the form to perform fantastic acts of extreme playfulness and sensuality.”

In her quieter work, her still life and observations of groups of figures lead us into a more intimate world. Thinly drawn figures embrace themselves with shrouds, twisting and turning, caressed into a sensual fusion of forms.

We enter a new land, an intimate female haven, set apart from the harsh reprisals of the outside world, where secrets are shared, and women are free to indulge their quiet self-conscious supremacy.

Janet says:

The youngest of four children I was born in London in 1955 and grew up in a small country village in Bedfordshire. I have always loved the countryside and I have a great passion for wildlife. It was at the age of around 11 years that I realised I wanted to become an artist and I had a choice between art or acting and art won. Having made this choice I was on a mission upon leaving school and embarked on a two year foundation course at Barnfield College, Luton followed by a degree at West Surrey College of Art and Design specializing in printmaking and sculpture.

After learning many skills there I then went onto the Slade School of Fine Art and completed a two year post graduate in printmaking. Whilst at the Slade School I started lecturing in printmaking specializing in mezzotint. Upon leaving college I lived in a studio apartment in Wapping, East London and I suppose you could say that I did the ‘bohemian artist’ thing. I had already built up a successful relationship with a gallery called the Curwen Gallery who gave me my first one-women exhibition in the 80s. I also won a few awards – 'The Lloyds Young Printmaker of the Year' and the 'Elizabeth Greenshield award' which allowed me to paint for a year. Throughout all of this in the 80’s I was lecturing and doing other various jobs to support myself and my art. However, although it made me realize just how hard it was to earn a living I was still only interested in painting full-time, I knew that I did not want to lecture full-time or do any other job for that matter – painting was my passion and still is!

Through going to the Slade School you brush past the great and the good – Ewan Uglio, Lucien Freud, Sir William Coldstream, Francis Bacon to name but a few. And as time goes on I can see how these and many others have influenced my work, without me even realizing. I am like a sponge absorbing life and these influences reappear years later and then it all makes sense. I never know where my ideas come from and I have no plans; I just get rushes of ideas and just think I have to work on them immediately to achieve the best results. My best work is done in a sort of stream of consciousness. Sometimes I go into my studio, which is my space, and I love it. I lose whole days as if I have been anaesthetized. It’s like drowning in a sea of nothingness – a sort of meditative state. It’s on those days that I do my very best work. My main aim is that my work should always be like a river, always changing and eventually turning into an estuary and then becoming the sea. I can’t wait to get to the sea!

Creativity is essential for my existence, a primal need that has been with me ever since I had consciousness. It is perhaps the only tangible direct link with our higher selves – the real us rather than the little bit we know as flesh and blood. Maybe through art it is possible to touch the eternal for a second.

My work is essentially figurative; I try to create an intimate mood using color and the figure or figures. I use models a lot of the time, and sometimes I see different things in the models; perhaps certain vulnerabilities or strengths that others don’t see. There has also always been a strong feeling of narrative in my work and in some pieces it is more obvious than in others. I like the images to be left open so that the viewer can put their own interpretation on things. I simply try to create an environment which people can hopefully relate to, be it fantasy or more realistic.

I paint a lot of nudes as I feel that the body holds experiences which, even if the figure has its back to you, it tells you its own story at that particular moment in time. We all pick up on that story on a subconscious level. So it‘s like reading a novel when looking into a painting. You see the painting and snatches of the artist all at once. It’s like laying yourself open without saying a word. It all holds memory – which creates atmosphere which speaks to everyone who looks at that painting.

I work on several paintings at any one time so while one is drying I would be working on another. At the moment I am fascinated with color and the effect it has on the things around it. As I work on paintings which are often repainted many times they go through a gambit of different colors from cool to hot and dark to light. I carry on until I hit on the right combination for that particular image.

At the moment I am working in oils and I love it! I like to have some form of texture to work on and I like things to be touchy-feely rather than flat. I have quite an old fashioned approach to methods of working and generally I just get stuck into the paint or whatever medium I am working in at the time. I am probably more known for my drawing which comes from my sculpture background as I love form and tend to, even when painting, visualize the other side of the subject. It has been said that in every bit of stone there is a sculpture already there waiting to be chiseled out. I look at a blank canvas, make it up to the size I like the look of and then it’s as if the figures are just there waiting to be painted –I just find it really exciting!

At present, Janet’s main effort is concentrated on the making of lithographic and serigraphic prints. She has moved away from the lush black tonal images of her early mezzotints to a more linear and sensual description of the human form.