Janette Kerr is an experimental contemporary artist whose work explores the boundaries between what is felt and what is seen in wild windswept places. She paints the weather, sea, light and wind, the more energetic the better, working both outside en plein air and in the studio. Her fascination extends to the people who live and have lived in the places she paints. Moving between abstraction and representation, she carries forward the ideas of the 18th Century Romantic Sublime in paintings that embody terrifying, thrilling confrontations with nature.
Janette Kerr is known for her paintings of the far North and Arctic. She goes regularly to the Shetland Isles to work. As well as Shetland paintings, this exhibition includes works that have resulted from her time at the Nes International Art Residency, Skagaströnd, NW Iceland in 2020. Her numerous collaborative projects with other artists, historians, scientists, and geographers have included time spent studying the unpredictability of waves and wind alongside Norwegian oceanographers at the meteorological Institute in Bergen which had a profound influence on her work.
Janette Kerr is the ultimate sea painter. Her bold, expressive, exploratory work begins outside with the salt in her paint and the sea heaving and crashing around her, the wilder the better.
Back in the studio she has time to gather all these ideas and feelings together, combining them with the energy she captures in her studies en plein air, to create much larger drawings and oil paintings. The powerful works that result combine a Romantic experience of the sublime – both terrifying and thrilling – with exploratory abstraction. She moves between the representational and the abstract, her work underpinned by exceptional drawing skills. Janette’s relish for the physical process of drawing and painting can be felt in the dynamic quality of her marks and brushstrokes.
In addition, she studies the archives and listens to the locals, looking for stories of the people who have lived, fished, explored and died in these specific remote places, enriching her engagement and ours.
Janette Kerr has a PhD in Fine Art. She is an Honorary Royal Scottish Academician, Past President of the Royal West of England Academy of Art and a Visiting Research Fellow, Fine Art, UWE Bristol. She has a long-standing history of showing work, exhibiting regularly across the UK and abroad. Her work is held in national and international collections. She has worked on residencies in Somerset, Wales, Ireland, Shetland, Norway and Svalbard. She has curated high profile exhibitions and accompanying programmes and has a strong track record of initiating and working collaboratively on successful projects with funding – with other artists as well as environmentalists, oceanographers, meteorologists and scientists.
Janette’s studio is in the West Country near Bath but between residencies and trips she divides her time between the studio and Shetland, 200 miles north of Aberdeen and west of Bergen, Norway. Her ancestors were Scottish and she was always drawn to the Shetlands. Since 2012 she has had her own bothy there where she goes regularly to paint.
In 2012 she took up a residency with the Meteorological Institute and the Marine Research Centre in Bergen, Norway, to explore her research project, Extreme Wave Theory. The Oceanographers were concerned with the study of the unpredictability of waves and wind and the constantly shifting surface of the sea. Working with them affected the way Janette looked at the sea. She made paintings about movement and rhythm of sea and wind, welling and breaking waves, merging of spray with air, advancing rain and mist, shafts of sunlight, peripheries, promontories, exposed headlands, edges and ledges.
In 2016 Janette Kerr sailed in a tall ship from Svalbard in the High Arctic to experience the vastness of mountains and glaciers appearing and disappearing in flowing mist, the darkness, the cold and the silence, interspersed with massive crashes as the melting ice hit the sea. Her Arctic work was shown at Sladers Yard in the solo exhibition, North, in spring 2018. Janette’s loose and expressive brushwork captured the essence of constant change in a place where everything is moving, where time takes on a whole new meaning.
My paintings reflect my own struggle to capture the nature of the marine environment, a knowledge attainable only through immersion within it, not merely as a spectator but as an active participant. Painting is dialogue between visual thinking and the activity of the body – a pushing and pulling between mind and physical activity – between a surface of paint and the movement of the sea; marks built up, scrubbed out, overlapped, drawn and scored into; layers of transparent and opaque paint that both conceal and reveal the history of a painting made over time, as the sea ebbs and flows.
Janette Kerr, in my estimation, is the best painter of the sea in these islands… one of her greatest assets is the quality of her brushwork, … it is dynamic and suggestive, and has an organic life of its own.
BRIAN FALLON CHIEF CRITIC OF THE IRISH TIMES AND ITS LITERARY EDITOR FOR 11 YEARS (1977 – 1988)