“Respect what you do. Use better paper.”
Jane Adeney is the great artist that almost wasn’t.
In the 1970s, Jane Adeney, a young university-educated mother of four, longed to make art, but she didn’t know how. With no formal art training, she began to attend part-time art classes in Burlington and Dundas, as well as taking art history courses, reading about contemporary Canadian Art, and attending as many art events as she could get to.
Adeney credits fellow artist V. Jane Gordon for giving her the push she needed to see herself as an artist, recalling the advice that changed her perspective. At a life-drawing class at a Burlington high school, she saw the work of another student whose work blew her away. This student was Gordon, who came to stand behind Adeney’s drawings and gave her review: “you should be using better paper. Adeney took this to mean “you should value what you do”.
Gordon befriended Adeney and became a mentor and teacher to her. She introduced her to the Hamilton art scene, including the nascent Hamilton Artists Inc., of which Gordon explained as, “it feels as much like a MFA graduate seminar as you’re ever going to find around here”. Gordon gathered a group of artists around her, and together they made art, discussed the state of women’s art in Canada and ultimately mounted a series of exhibitions throughout Ontario. Thrown into this lively environment of life drawings and intellectual debate, Adeney began to see the possibility of expression through art-making, stating “V. Jane made us feel like artists, she brought us in”.
These meetings led by Gordon provided a radical space for women to explore feminist art-making in a safe environment alternative from any mainstream institutions that were, and often still are, heavily entrenched with hierarchy and baggage. Gordon hosted life-drawing sessions in a former Jam Factory near her home in Waterdown, which led to the exhibition “Jam Sessions” held at the third floor members’ space of the Hamilton Artists’ Inc. on James Street North.
This group solidified to become the Bay Area Artists for Women’s Art (BAAWA) and included artists Donna Ibing and Dawn White Beatty. Notable BAAWA exhibits were “Eccentric Furniture Show” in 1987 and the “Flower Show” in 1991, both held at the Hamilton Artists Inc.
Adeney’s significant and thought-provoking work “A Just So Story” for the “Eccentric Furniture Show” was an installation piece of a stark white dining room, featuring a careful arrangement of objects in clay. Here, Adeney deeply explored her interest in where a woman’s place in the world could be, finding where darkness can be hidden in seemingly plain, pristine sight. Arranging things “just so”, women are often held to impossible standards of perfection, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Her 1987 statement reads, “the model of woman represented here is an incomplete one, bereft, estranged from totality of her nature… She is compelled to impose order on her experience from without, as a substitute for a sense of unity within.”
This exhibit also cemented her love affair with the medium of clay, which she has used consistently throughout her career. She states, “clay is my medium of choice, because of its organic qualities and its mute eloquence as an expressive medium. Its obduracy and intractability, the patience and skill it demands, are to me an exact metaphor for the inner struggle I am documenting: to make sense of things, to create order from chaos, to manifest forms.”
Another significant series in Adeney’s career has been with the “Red Queen”. These smoke-fired, egg-like objects have been returned to time and again, signifying Adeney’s exploration of the sensual life of women. She has expanded on this theme with the “Stone Flower” series, which moves closer to how the sensual and spiritual lives intersect through form.
Her thematic allegiance to domestic spaces and the inner life juxtaposed with the dark, industrial materials of metal and stone asks viewers how they too can push themselves out of the life they know into the possibilities beyond.
Thank you for
submitting feedback to
Building Cultural Legacies