Topic: Janice Giles: Preparation and Process

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It is only in the past two years that Janice Giles has returned to the intense experience of producing art again. Art interests, as for many of us, were an indulgence to be squeezed between work, mortgages, and study.

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She describes herself as “that NZ cliche, ‘the self-taught artist’,” though she acknowledges valuable time spent with Waihi’s life drawing group.

Janice’s artwork reveals an astonishing understanding of the human psyche.

Janice enjoys the challenge of painting the human form and often paints or draws direct from life to canvas with pastels and acrylics.

Janice explains that, while painting or preparing initial drawings, meanings shift and deepen, and changes may be made to the image to reflect that process. Janice also hopes viewers find their own meanings and conversations with her works and expects that her own meanings and relationships with them will continue to develop.

Janice Giles at work

The robust women of ‘Betwixt’* and ‘Between’ in the photo ‘Janice at Work’, are painted from imagination. The initial inspiration came from the idea that we are all on the continuum of ‘now’, constantly moving from past to future, and linked to both by the consequences of our actions and circumstances. The seeds of the past produce fruit in the future, and perhaps in some way the future creates its own past. Maybe our only choices are in the way we experience the present, because we are always betwixt and between – on our way from somewhere or something to somewhere or something else.

Each figure is responding differently to this process – the woman in ‘Betwixt’ seeks stillness in trying to hold more space open for the present, the woman in ‘Between’ is playing with the flow. On another level, the deep red background in the central panel represents blood, an intimate reality of women’s experience, while the fruit, seeds and vines suggest ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The Bellringer - 600mm x 300mm  - Acrylic on canvas - 2009 

‘The Bellringer’, contains many symbolic elements and seems to ‘ring bells’ for viewers.  A male model took this pose spontaneously in a life drawing group and the painting developed from that. The figure in the painting is relatively androgynous, and naked so that he is not specifically defined by role or history.

The central idea of The Bellringer is that most of us live our lives defined and limited by prescribed roles that are not often questioned. We respond predictably and unconsciously, like Pavlov’s dogs, to the messages of who we may be and how we may live or see the world. We learn to ring our own bell as a call for self and others to conform to prescription. So, we become prisoners of the bell, chained to our roles and our expectations of ourselves and others, however mediocre or meaningless those expectations may be.

The background landscape, which has a Renaissance feel, places the figure ambiguously in time and also suggests the possibility of new beginnings. Beyond the bell tower are different ways of being, living, imagining – and different literal or metaphorical worlds to explore. Houses represent other ways of living, and mountains represent potential challenges or adventures. The key to the chains that bind him sit on the window sill in plain sight, but the bellringer does not, or cannot, see it. He continues to ‘live’, represented by the blanket piled behind him, in the bell tower. For him this is all there is, only this, and he rings the bell until his arms and body ache. The image asks us to wake up and think beyond the bell to who, or how else, we might be.

Janice exhibited as a painter in the successful Creative Tauranga Gallery exhibition ‘Celebration’ in April and as a writer in the writer artist collaboration exhibition ‘Double Vision’ in August.

Janice can be contacted at:

by Pete Morris (2011).

Pete Morris is an occasional painter and art lover. He is a freelance writer with a particular interest in promoting the visual arts in Tauranga.


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