Imaging the Divine Feminine.
Story by V. Jane Gordon with excerpts and adaptations from Catalogue for Life Mound 1, Glenhyrst Gardens, Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant, Catalogue for Emergence, Oakville Galleries, 1987, Catalogue for V Jane Gordon Life Drawing 1972-1992, Catalogue for Artists of Influence, Hugh Galloway and V. Jane Gordon, Hamilton Artists’ Inc, 1993, and V. Jane Gordon. The Artists Inquiry Book, 2012.
I was born in Wiltshire, England and immigrated to Canada at the age of five. I have made most of my art in the historic Village of Waterdown atop the natural wonder that is the Niagara Escarpment. I improvise as a visual artist in complex narrative and installation contexts with a wide variety of media and ideas. I have an undergraduate degree in Art History from Queen’s University, a Master’s degree with a studio major in painting and drawing, and a specialty in arts education from the Fine Art department at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia).
As an artist and curator I have mounted over 100 exhibitions and have work in public collections in Canada and in Europe as well as many private collections. I have authored several gallery-based publications in the National Archive as well as The Artist’s Inquiry Book. I am a winner of the Woman of the Year in the Arts award and the Hamilton Arts Award medal. I am an honourary lifetime member of Hamilton Artists Inc. and received the Olympic 88 Government of Canada certificate for community contributions in the arts. I am a year round artist/mentor and my interests extend from traditional gallery based practices to time based digital manipulations and embodied interventions.
My struggle to “create” is a spiritual drive, which is fueled by space and time. “Image-making” is the means of performing this process – it is my spiritual internal combustion engine. My paintings are specific and particular objects, but the process of image-making is something I share with all human kind. I find that I can only become human be becoming a human female. I search for the roots of my culture in my world and in my mind and in my sprit. I attempt to grow from these archetypal roots, images which will push back the darkness of my fear and misunderstanding and allow me to find the courage to move on. I declare myself an artist and present my images to others knowing they will be re-created by each viewer subject to their own needs. I affect the world by the dialectic set-up between the record of self-creation in my images and the process of self-creation experienced by the viewer.
I find myself returning again and again to drawing the figure. I am pushed to seek out the experience of life drawing when I am being teased by some conceptual thorn, or some technical burr. I experience myself as spiritually alive. Something as close to the surface of my body as my daily life, moves on the inside surface of my skin. Through this experience of being, I find imagery to explore the feminine divine.
As a writer and practitioner in the visual arts, I explore information and ideas inside what I call “haptic systems.” These are ways of working founded in, but ultimately not confined to, the space between the hand and the body. Through this way, working in a place does not begin with finding interesting “views,” rather work begins with your body’s complex assembly of senses and instincts focused on a specific place it closely inhabits. Rather than looking outward from the body with the artists’ “gaze,” I try to retrain my eye to explore the less organized, less conscious glance in the space close to the body. Rather than depending on vision and the brain as a processor, the method advocates for the integration of all the senses in artists’ research and posits the skin as the body’s largest organ, it’s integrator and most significant processor/transformer of information.
This xerox work was a part of my master’s thesis project. The Leg Book is a xerox copy of a series of drawings which form the record of a calligraphic symbol for an image of the figure, drawn in the first person.
I completed my masters education at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. There was no MFA, but I opted for the studio focused degree with a major in Drawing and Painting and a specialty in Arts Education.
By the time I was finished I had given up painting as an indefensible activity polluted by the production of high status consumer durables for the economic elite.
I worked exclusively in clay for four years after I graduated in 1973. Then my second child had pica — he ate clay among other things. I had to remove it from my household and to “keep my hand in” I started to draw again, in the evenings and by 1982 I was painting again in a different mode.
When I resumed painting in the 1980s this tryptich was my first series of large scale work, painted before I had a formal working studio. Some of these images were painted in a small space in my house, where I could barely get 3 feet away from the canvas!
Carnival Women Triptych, from left to right: Garden of Delight, Carnival Women, Mistress of Mystery. c.1984-86. 5 x 5 ft. Courtesy of the artist.
Me at my mother’s knee…
I pursued interest in an original one minute conte drawing through a series of eighteeen coloured marker drawings. Through the course of the drawings the “Stone Woman” evolved, disolved, and re-emerged as “Bear Mother.” I reaslised that she was a symbol of the “power through” engendered by the female body. She is passage, from dark to light, from unconsciousness to consciousness, from life to death and the promise of rebirth.
For three years I drew almost exclusively with a brush and ink. It is an unforgiving medium. I had to let go of the marks, like precious children – to let them be themselves. As I worked I tried to let the end of the brush be as familiar to me as the end of my finger.
I have theorized about the origins of painting. Painted images in ancient caves are often accompanied by hand prints. On these hand prints fingers are often missing. I have suggested these early painted images were made by women. Each hand belongs to a mother, missing fingers represent pregnancies, first finger, first child and so on. For the current project this idea has become a garden piece. Life Mound #1 has been crowned with a stone and planted with a spiralling pattern of while and purple alyssum. A spiral “hand path” surrounding the mound is paved in alternating colours of stone. The path, the mound, and the plantings display a record of flowering hands, ie birth histories.
Like Life Mound #1 this piece draws on how I have theorized about the origins of painting. Painted images in ancient caves are often accompanied by hand prints. On these hand prints fingers are often missing. I have suggested these early painted images were made by women. Each hand belongs to a mother, missing fingers represent pregnancies, first finger, first child and so on. In this installation the sculptures of hands, installed in a spiral pattern, are made from locally quarried limestone.
The following oral history video was filmed in October 2018 at the Hamilton Public Library, central branch sound studio, for the Building Cultural Legacies project as part of a series of conversations between emerging and established artists, organized by the Hamilton Arts Council and the Hamilton Public Library and funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
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