Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Eyes Wide Open-A Conversation with Janet Starr
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Janet Starr in her Hailey studio.
   
Saturday, May 22, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY ALEX duMAURIEE

Art is one of those tricky things to evaluate without some kind of feedback from just about everyone.

 We all know each of us responds to a piece of art ‘subjectively.’ That just means we have our own opinion about it based on a myriad of personal reasons why. I find it fascinating and curious how each of us sees the world and how we interpret things so differently.

Again, myriad comes to mind. As fraught with opinion as is the art world, I find one of the bravest things an artist can do is to pour heart and soul onto a canvas and expose it to comment.

 
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Hobart
 

Last night I had the opportunity to share wine and apps with my friend and gifted artist Janet Starr. We discussed the fine line distinctions of the color sage. Yep. Artists talk about stuff like that.

But the conversation wasn’t really about sage or green and the umpteen variations of it. We were exploring the way we gather visual information and new perspectives--conscious observation. I asked Janet if she had a strategy for accessing her most extraordinary way of seeing.

“I’m not sure,” she responded. “Let me think about it.”

I was astounded to hear her say that she had never thought of herself as an artist because she could not draw. Still, her creative urge found another language of expression through her abstract paintings. It turns out that her path was a haphazard, somewhat managed, sinuous track that was pulled more than pushed by curiosity and challenge.

 
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Kick Rocks
 

It all began by rummaging in her junk drawer, discovering some orange Rit fabric dye, wondering how it worked, then dyeing everything in sight and, of course, the leap to ‘Hey, I could create my own fabric designs.’

What followed was 16 years of first learning the bare basics of dyeing fabric, color and the magic of two or more colors mixed together. Then, a flurry of experiments that resulted in piles of cloth squares without a purpose.

As an amateur seamstress who could make a dress but not one that actually fit, she thought to create quilts…not something that was a burning desire but at least a home for a bunch of squares. But quilting took special skill and patience, a characteristic which she did not have in abundance. Yet, one characteristic that did persist was just that…persistence.

After years of using organic, sinuous shapes in her large abstract wall hangings, Janet wanted to change directions. She wanted to experiment with clean lines, geometry and negative space. When she showed her mother the first piece, her mom said, “Wow, it vibrates!”

 
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2 out at Night
 

This comment became the genesis of her 45-piece series called “My Mother Danced the Jitterbug.” Based on the color wheel, each grouping was named after a 1940’s song--music her mother danced to in Hollywood as a teen before the war.

After completing the series, Janet figured she had sewn more than 350,000 inches. She was done with fabric. She really ought to have a big sign above her work space. WHAT IF? Now what? Why not?

Her antennae seem always to be seeking a new way to express or translate her next idea. She really does operate with her eyes wide open and gives possibility a chance. It might become a train wreck but heck, why not?

There have been three transitions in her bodies of work. Each one was as unpredictable as the last or the next. She explained that once she reached saturation and felt complete with a phase of her work, she moved into the next challenge which, in the beginning, rarely revealed itself with any clarity.

 
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Untitled
 

We wondered together about the nudge that occurs when we are quite done with something. Janet begins with curiosity, works to competence and confidence and moves on before a hint of boredom.

With fabric design behind her, she moved onto and continues to work with cold wax medium, oils and then acrylics. Always tending toward the abstract and loose representational pieces, her jumping off place for beginning a new work was mostly by doing nothing. Staring at the challenge of a blank canvas or paper for a while slowed everything down and made room in her process for just one simple shape. Maybe two. Then, from behind the veil where all shapes, lines, spots and marks reside, slowly, one at a time, she places them…sometimes with care and sometimes in wild abandon.

In this process there can be no good, bad, right or wrong. All options are on the table. Risking a bad move with a funky line or a ridiculous shape, with time and patience, just may create the coolest outcome. Each move is a ‘what if’ moment. What if I wreck it? What if the cracks in this rotting wood could be a defining mark? Marks are everything. Marks rule.

One of Janet’s large block like shapes she described as a warrior princess with attitude. Call me crazy but I did not see it no matter how I looked at “her.” There was something other staring out at me and it did not scream princess. I was thinking big black ink stain. We were looking at the same image. But as she told the story of her work, I eventually found that princess. I saw before me how so much more than the marks on paper defined what Janet saw.

There was a story in there between the lines. Her perspective included things that were hers alone. This is one reason we don’t see the world in the same way. It’s personal. Janet has begun to clear any excess from her paintings. She is going for lots of white space and breathing room leaving her images to hang in mid-air with no apologies. It’s first an intuitive thing with her. Logic kicks in down the road a bit.

To watch her create and to hear her talk through the process is transfixing and I always walk away from an exchange with Janet having learned to see at least one thing in another way. Whatever the path to determining it, Janet rightfully found another way to define herself as Artist. She moved the lines of self-perception…

Want to know more? Contact Janet at janet@starr209.com

Editor’s Note: Hailey artist Alex duMauriee has been fascinated with the alchemic process of creating since she was a child.

 

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